As more Black NFL retirees win dementia cases, some forced to wait


(NewsNation) — While hundreds of Black NFL retirees who were denied payouts in the $1 billion concussion settlement now qualify for awards after their tests were rescored to eliminate racial bias, the wait for many continues.

Two-time Super Bowl champion Leonard Marshall has been diagnosed with Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

Marshall, 60, filed a claim with the NFL concussion settlement in 2017. It was approved in 2017 and then later reversed.

He has still not been paid out in that settlement.

He is one of many former NFLers whose examination records were “demographically adjusted based on Mr. Marshall’s age, education, gender and race,” according to a review.

In other words, Marshall’s test scores were adjusted because he is Black.

Last year, the NFL said it would end the controversial practice referred to as “race norming.” 

The use of “race norming” in the dementia testing made it more difficult for Black players to prove they had the kind of cognitive decline that qualifies retired players for awards that average $500,000 or more.

New court filings show that when these “race norms” were removed — and their results rescored — more players qualified for an award.  

“It’s obvious it’s a broken system,” said Marshall. “It’s obvious that something has failed here.”

Dr. Amy Lewis, who has spent years treating professional athletes, said the effects of “race norming” in these cases are astounding.

Thousands of other Black retirees can seek new testing to see whether they qualify under the revised scoring formula. But advocates for the former players fear many don’t know that.

“Out of 646 that were initially rescored, 307 — nearly 50% of them — went from no award to a new award; or a lesser award to a higher award, based solely on removing those race norms,” she told NewsNation.

Lewis, and her husband Ken Jenkins, a former NFL player, have been fighting for fairness in the concussion settlement and have also formed a player advocacy group. 

“We had to make sure that there was easier access, that there was equity in the settlement and any negotiations going forward and that there’s sunlight … that there’s transparency,” she said.

Ricky Ray, a six-year veteran of the NFL is a member of the group, has also been critical of the process.

“When a guy’s unable to work, unable to take care of himself, and their family is not intact because of this, it’s not fair,” he said. “Clean (the audit process) up, just clean it up.”

Chris Seeger, the class counsel who initially said he saw no evidence of racial bias in the administration of the previous settlement, later apologized.

“Our focus in implementing this rescoring process has been to provide more retired players and their families with critical benefits, and ensure greater equity and transparency,” he said in part in a statement to NewsNation. “We believe it will continue to be a lifeline for former NFL players for the decades to come.”

Dr. Lewis disagrees.

“This settlement has not yet been a lifeline for the vast majority of players who so desperately need that money in order to take care of them and for their families, too,” she said.

As far as Ray sees it, there is too much red tape and his message for the NFL is simple.

“Stand up. Be truthful to the fact that these guys are injured and don’t make the process so cumbersome so that people can’t take care of themselves.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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