Judge dismisses lawsuit claiming racial discrimination in concussion settlement

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that the NFL’s massive concussion settlement discriminates against retired players on the basis of race.

Via Daniel Kaplan of TheAthletic.com, the presiding judge dismissed the case on the basis that it was an “improper collateral attack” on the settlement. The judge nevertheless expressed concern about the situation, ordering a federal magistrate judge to confer with the parties regarding the issue.

The lawsuit arises from “race-norming,” a controversial practice that results in the baseline cognitive assessment of Black players being reduced. This makes it harder for Black players to show that they have suffered diminished cognitive function due to playing football, in order to qualify for benefits under the concussion settlement.

The attack on the NFL always seemed misplaced, because the settlement amounts and procedures received comprehensive and painstaking approval from a federal judge. The question becomes whether and to what extent these practices can be rectified, either by reopening the settlement or otherwise holding someone else responsible for practices that clearly seem to be discriminatory on the surface.

A Super Bowl-week report from ABC News documented concerns from some clinicians that the baseline cognitive assessment does indeed discriminate. The question becomes whether this outcome is specific to the NFL’s concussion settlement, or a broader issue within the medical community.

Thus, while the NFL apparently has avoided responsibility for the situation, the federal judge to whom the case was assigned seems to be sufficiently troubled to require that a closer look be taken at the situation. Hopefully, all sides will find a way to rectify any and all racially-discriminatory practices and to ensure that all former players will be treated the same way when deciding who does and doesn’t qualify for benefits.