Four members of Congress sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday questioning the league's formula for making concussion settlement payments to Black former players.
Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Representatives Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Maxine Waters, (D-Calif.) signed the letter seeking explanation of a race-based formula for payments, how it was developed and has been used.
“If these allegations are true," the letter said, referring to a lawsuit filed last month against the NFL, "the algorithm used to modify the results of your cognitive evaluations appear to have the effect of denying Black players — a historically disadvantaged and legally protected group — compensation to which they would otherwise be entitled. This would raise serious questions about the NFL’s commitment to racial justice and compliance with the Federal law that mandates equal protection.”
Wyden, Booker, Clarke and Waters urged the NFL to stop using the formula immediately.
"We urge you to immediately halt the use of any racially based algorithms in the cognitive impairment evaluation until it can be determined, through a full independent review, that they do not have the effect of depriving Black players compensation they are owed," they wrote. "In the meantime, we also urge you to review Black players’ previously denied claims to evaluate whether or not the denial was based on race.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league will respond to the inquiry from the four members of Congress and referred to a recent statement the NFL made in response to a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania on behalf of former players Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, both of whom are Black.
“The lawsuit filed (Aug. 25) is entirely misguided,” the NFL statement said. "The Settlement Program, which has already paid over $700 million in benefits to retirees and their families, was the result of arm’s-length, comprehensive negotiations between the NFL and class counsel, was approved by the federal courts after a searching review of its fairness, and always contemplated the use of recognized statistical techniques to account for demographic differences such as age, education and race. The point of such adjustments — in contrast to the complaint’s claims — is to seek to ensure that individuals are treated fairly and compared against comparable groups. But the Settlement Agreement does not require the use of any particular adjustments, and instead leaves their use to the sound discretion of the independent clinicians administering the tests in any particular case.
“The NFL continues to be fully committed to paying all legitimate claims and providing the important benefits that our retired players and their families deserve.”
The settlement fund has so far paid about $720 million to retired players for problems linked to NFL concussions, including more than $300 million for dementia claims. Lawyers for Henry and Davenport said in court filings that their clients were denied awards, but would have qualified under the scoring system for white men.