FRANCISCO (AP) — Philadelphia has a new mayor. After having their tests rescored to remove racial bias, hundreds of Black NFL retirees who had been denied payouts in the $1 billion concussion settlement are now eligible for awards.
In an effort to eliminate any racial bias in the testing process, the settlement was modified last year. Blacks found it more challenging to demonstrate the kind of cognitive decline that qualifies retired players for awards averaging $500,000 or more due to the use of “race norming” in the dementia testing.
The law firm handling claims against the NFL released a report on Friday detailing the automatic rescoring of nearly 650 men’s dementia tests. The retirees had completed the necessary hours of validity testing to demonstrate that their daily lives were significantly impaired and that they were not malingering, so their claims had a good chance of being approved.
Depending on their age and level of dementia, 51 of them are now eligible for awards. Up to $35,000 in additional medical testing and treatment will be provided to the nearly 250 people who have shown signs of early dementia. Due to testing problems related to racial norms, they were all initially disqualified.
New findings from the tests will result in millions more for the NFL in compensation.
In the meantime, thousands of other Black retirees can get retested to see if they are eligible under the new scoring system. However, those who are advocating for the former players are concerned that many of them are unaware of this, particularly if they have memory problems and live independently.
Amy Lewis, whose husband is former Washington player Ken Jenkins, said that she and Jenkins had petitioned the presiding judge and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to address the race-norming issue. “Men who are homeless, men who originally signed up but their cognitive function changed, men who are divorced or isolated — we are going to go looking for them,” Lewis said.
The couple, who had previously voiced their disapproval of class counsel Chris Seeger’s handling of the situation, are now helping him spread the word.
Lewis said she doesn’t care if she’s “inside the tent or outside the tent” as long as more men get assistance with the claims process. Several cases take a long time to resolve.
A representative from the NFL was not immediately available for comment on the rescoring when reached by phone Friday morning or via email in recent weeks.
Attorney Seeger, who led the group of nearly 20,000 retired players in negotiating the settlement with the NFL, has expressed regret that he was initially blind to the extent of the racial bias. He recently stated his intention to “make sure the NFL pays every nickel they should” in an interview.
The league’s total of settled claims recently topped $1 billion. Although that sum was initially projected, delays caused by appeals and audits have reduced it to around $916 million at present. Awards for four other compensable diagnoses are also included: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and CTE-related deaths that occurred prior to April 2015.
The process has slowed and NFL appeals have ramped up as reviewers take on the more complex dementia claims. Now, even after program doctors and expert panels weigh in, nearly four out of ten dementia claims are audited by Richmond-based BrownGreer, the claims administrator.
James Pruitt, 58, a wide receiver for Indianapolis and Miami from 1986 to 1991, said, “Their mantra is deny, deny, delay until you die.”
Following his retirement from the NFL, Pruitt entered education and is now the principal of a middle school in Palm Beach County, Florida. But in 2010, when he was in his forties, the school board asked him to leave. The demands of his job had become too much for him to bear.
Later on, he stopped getting in touch with his fellow athletes.
I stay in all the time and have trouble recalling recent events. I’ve been told I repeat myself a lot,” he admitted. I feel a little ashamed about this whole thing.
In the years following the settlement’s approval in 2015, he and his wife met with lawyers who were touring the country to pitch the deal to associations of former players.
According to 42-year-old Traci Pruitt, “we were told… this was going to be a very easy process, you just need to go to the doctors, get a qualifying diagnosis from them.” Six years have passed, and we’re still being ignored.”
The couple had their approval revoked twice by different doctors, once because their original doctor had been kicked off the program. According to their attorney, they have three chances to win the case under the race-blind scoring system. They have yet to receive word.
Traci Pruitt, a home-based accountant, has said that winning an award would allow her to pay for the caregiving assistance she and her husband require. I’m sorry, but I don’t have his experience or education to help him out.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport’s attorneys discovered in 2020 that the testing algorithm had been adjusting scores by race, a rough proxy for someone’s socioeconomic background. The formula was adapted from one used in medicine to aid in the diagnosis of dementia, but it was never meant to be used to determine payouts in legal awards.
After a slow start, Seeger thinks the claims process is picking up speed.
Many of you have complained that things have been slow for a while. We’ve prevailed in a few court appeals, I believe, “In the words of Seeger. As the saying goes, “I don’t think the NFL expected to pay $1 billion — and we’re about to cross $1 billion.”
If you’re interested in legal matters, you can keep up with AP writer Maryclaire Dale by following her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Maryclairedale).
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