Dozens of Black retired N.F.L. players will now be eligible for payouts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from the league’s billion-dollar concussion settlement, reversing previous decisions made because of cognitive tests that used race-based measures to determine whether the players had dementia.
The decision, included in a status report filed by the settlement administrator that was entered into the court docket Thursday, came two years after two former players sued the league to end the use of race as a criterion in evaluating the players’ claims, a process known as “race-norming.”
The settlement administrator found that 646 players who had been tested for dementia but did not qualify for cash payouts could have their tests automatically rescored without using race as a criterion.
Of those, 61 were found to have moderate or severe dementia and may receive payouts worth $500,000 or more. The payouts vary based on a player’s age and the number of years he was in the league.
Another 246 former players were found to have mild dementia and will receive additional testing to monitor their conditions. Thousands of other players have qualified for examinations that will not use race as a factor; these players could qualify for payouts in the coming months and years.
The results were the latest chapter in the landmark concussion settlement that has resulted in about $1 billion in claims being paid to players with a range of cognitive and neurological diseases including dementia. For years, former players and their families have accused the league of making it difficult, if not impossible, to receive payouts from the settlement, and they have claimed that the plaintiffs attorney who represents every player in the class-action settlement was not doing enough to fight for them.
In August 2020, two retired Black players, Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, challenged the seven-year-old settlement and accused the league of “explicitly and deliberately” discriminating against Black players by using separate race-based benchmarks to determine their eligibility for dementia-based payouts, which can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The league denied that it was trying to exclude Black players but agreed to remove race as a criterion. Christopher Seeger, the attorney representing the entire class of players, apologized for allowing race to be used in evaluating dementia claims.
In October, the league and attorneys for the players agreed to stop using a player’s race when trying to determine his level of cognitive decline.
David Langfitt, who has represented hundreds of former N.F.L. players in the settlement, said former players and their families owe Henry, Davenport and their lawyers “a debt of gratitude for coming forward and correcting something that was clearly wrong.”
“The best way to think of the results so far is that they are a first step, a down payment on a problem that is now corrected,” Langfitt added. “Moving forward, we expect an ongoing positive impact on the claims process, because African American players will be treated the same as the white players with whom they played.”
In a statement Friday, Seeger said he was focused on the rescoring process “to provide more retired players and their families with critical benefits, increase their access to information, and ensure greater equity and transparency going forward.”
The N.F.L. did not return a request for comment.