Habari Gani: A Focus on Recent Events

Chiefs End Zone

By Makheru Bradley

October 8, 2021 11:05AM
Makheru Bradley

We titled this series Habari Gani, a Kiswahili term we use during Kwanzaa, translated as “What’s New”, or “What is the News?” Our intent is to cover recent events that impact Afrikan people.

Race-norming: The NFL used an outlawed civil rights practice to deny former Black players concussion payments
Race norming, the practice of adjusting test scores to account for the race and ethnicity of federal jobs applicants originated during the Carter Administration. Its purpose was to counteract racial bias in aptitude tests. The practice was condemned by those who viewed race-norming within the context of reverse discrimination. It was outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, but that did not prevent the concept from being used in medicine.

Per Vox: Race norming — also called “race correction,” “ethnic adjustment,” and “race adjustment” — has been integrated into medical tools, from kidney stone risk calculators to oncology risk assessment tools, since at least the 1990s. Working on the racist assumption that Black and white bodies are different has led to algorithms that can harm Black patients and other patients of color.

A study done in 2020 concluded that, “race correction perpetuates race-based inequity, as it relies on stereotypes about people of color, often Black people, and can prevent these patients from receiving adequate care. By embedding race into the basic data and decisions of health care, these algorithms propagate race-based medicine ... in ways that may direct more attention or resources to white patients than to members of racial and ethnic minorities.”
The NFL, concussions and cognitive skills tests
More than 4,500 retired NFL players filed a “concussion-related” class-action lawsuit against the league in 2011. Rather than risk the potentially punitive outcome of a trial, the NFL decided to negotiate a settlement. A $1 billion settlement was finally approved by the SCOTUS in December 2016. The settlement is designed to cover medical exams, further research, and legal fees for concussion-related neurological diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A 2017 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association reported “that 99% of the studied brains of deceased NFL players showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head, whose symptoms include cognitive impairment, depression, memory loss, suicidal thoughts and emotional instability.”

Several retired Black NFL players quickly discovered that a perceived victory was tainted by race-norming—the practice of assuming a lower baseline of cognitive abilities in Black players. Black retirees who are overrepresented in the number of retired players discovered that “the race norming practice limited Black players’ access to the compensation they were rightfully owed.”

That discovery led to a 2020 lawsuit by former Pittsburgh Steelers Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport: “Black former players are automatically assumed (through a statistical manipulation called ‘race-norming’) to have started with worse cognitive functioning than White former players. As a result, if a Black former player and a White former player receive the exact same raw scores on a battery of tests designed to measure their current cognitive functioning, the Black player is presumed to have suffered less impairment, and he is therefore less likely to qualify for compensation.”
The NFL practices “scientific white supremacy”
Per an “opinion and analysis article” in Scientific American: “For the NFL, race norming depends on the belief that race is a binary, biological concept, and therefore that differences in Black bodies and minds are not only existent, but quantifiable. But they’re wrong on all accounts: race norming is an inherently anti-Black form of scientific racism that is evidence of slavery’s afterlife.” The NFL announced in June 2021 that it would no longer use race norming in legal settlements for concussion-related injuries. However, The Washington Post reported last week: The league and its lawyers have continued to defend the practice in public statements and court filings.

The Post documented the struggles of three retired Black players: former Pittsburgh Steeler Carlton Haselrig; former Houston Oiler Johnnie Dirden; and a third Black former NFL player who didn’t want to be publicly identified.

“For Haselrig, who died suddenly last year at 54, The Post found that race-norming prevented him from qualifying for NFL-funded medical care and potentially a seven-figure payment in the final years of his life. For Dirden, 69, race-norming prevented him from even filing a claim for an NFL settlement payment last year even though his neurologist diagnosed him with dementia and started him on medication. For the third player, race-norming prevented a dementia diagnosis in 2019, his medical records show, and a potential $400,000 payment from the NFL… Haselrig, Dirden and the third player are among nearly 5,000 former NFL players who have been evaluated by doctors in a network established by the settlement — and funded by the NFL — and walked away without a diagnosis.”
No equal pay for equal pain
As the Scientific American article noted, “By requiring race norming to determine neurocognitive impairments in former players, the NFL acted as a racialized organization…legitimizing the unequal distribution of resources to the majority of their players. Not only did this practice extend the NFL’s participation in anti-Black practices, it also allowed the league to live up to its capitalist ideals… Even with the NFL’s overwhelming financial prominence, race norming was one way the league could more closely moderate who was eligible for a settlement.”

For 2021, the NFL is allowing its players to display six social justice messages on the back of their helmets: “End Racism,” “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All of Us,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Inspire Change” and “Say Their Stories.” They are also painting the slogans “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” on the end zones at its stadiums as part of an effort to show solidarity with the protest movements against racism and police brutality. What a joke!

The league which banned Colin Kaepernick and which uses race-norming to deny medical payments to its Black retirees has absolutely no shame in its hypocrisy.

For more from the author, follow his blog Makheru Speaks.

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