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What in the Actual Hell Is ‘Race Norming’ and Why Is the NFL Just Now Admitting to It?

On Wednesday a headline from the AP elicited another round of gasps from pretty much everyone.The reaction on social media was nearly universal and boiled down to, “Ummm…what?”

AP News explains that the practice of “race-norming” is the assumption that Black players have a “lower cognitive function” base, and thus settlements on brain injury claims are calculated by adjusting for race. The result has been to make it harder for Black players to prove that they have been cognitively injured during the execution of their NFL career.

The practice made it harder for Black retirees to show a deficit and qualify for an award. The standards were created in the 1990s in hopes of offering more appropriate treatment to dementia patients, but critics faulted the way they were used to determine payouts in the NFL concussion case.

Wednesday’s announcement comes after a pair of Black players filed a civil rights lawsuit over the practice, medical experts raised concerns and a group of NFL families last month dropped 50,000 petitions at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia — where the lawsuit had been thrown out by the judge overseeing the settlement.

This was a shocking headline, sent out into cyberspace with such a casual flow that it sort of rocked me off my feet. My next question, of course, was, “What the hell exactly is race norming?” I started digging and discovered that this isn’t the first mention of race norming in the press. Kudos to the AP for covering it more thoroughly months ago when it reported on the controversy surrounding the NFL’s settlement with injured players.

A hearing had been set for Thursday. The judge instead ordered the NFL and the lead lawyer in the overall $1 billion settlement to resolve the issue through mediation. That process would appear to exclude the Black players who sued.

“We are deeply concerned that the Court’s proposed solution is to order the very parties who created this discriminatory system to negotiate a fix,” said lawyer Cyril V. Smith, who represents ex-players Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, and filed a notice to appeal the dismissal late Monday. “The class of Black former players whom we represent must have a seat at the table and a transparent process.”

The demographic factors that doctors consider during testing for dementia often include race. If so, lawyers say, the testing assumes that Black athletes start with worse cognitive functioning than white people — which means it’s harder for them to show a deficit. Both Henry and Davenport were denied awards but would have qualified had they been white, according to their lawsuit.

Why this wasn’t bigger news and how we all managed to avoid this shocking racial standard for medical care is beyond me. Well, it isn’t really…but I’ll get to that later.

A quick perusal of a search engine brought me to an article written all the way back in March by Dave Zirin at The Nation. Zirin must have prematurely read my mind, as the title of his piece is, appropriately, “So What the Hell Is Race Norming?”

My thoughts exactly, Dave!

I was flummoxed as to how such an openly bigoted policy would be able to be blatantly practiced by the NFL for so long without even the woke scolds getting ahold of it. As it turns out, the practice was instituted by the Carter administration as a way to even the playing field for Black applicants to government positions. It was a form of affirmative action.

The practice of “race norming” harkens back 40 years, when aptitude scores, as a part of federal jobs’ applications, were adjusted to account for the race and ethnicity of the person taking the test. It was an admission that these tests were in fact racially biased. “Race norming” was first used by the Carter Administration and then further implemented and extended by Reagan in 1981 (RINO!) before being subsequently outlawed by George H.W. Bush’s so-called “Civil Rights Act” of 1991. Again, the purpose of “race norming” was actually to counteract racial bias in aptitude tests. In other words, its goal was to correct racist practices, not to implement them. “Race norming” soon became a juicy target for the right wing, called by George Will “liberalism’s apartheid of compassion.” The bow-tied one further wrote in his 1991 syndicated column that “such ‘remedies’ so obviously poison society.” For Will and his ilk, attempted cures are always the scourge, while racism itself gets to fester without even a scant critique.

Unsurprisingly, Zirin does not give George Will the satisfaction of being absolutely correct in his criticism. Will knew a correction based on a lie (the lie that Black people simply do not have the capacity to carry themselves as civilly as white people; in other words, the soft bigotry of low expectations) could only lead to worse consequences and as it turns out, he was absolutely right. And as a note of personal criticism for Zirin, I would ask what the hell good an “attempted cure” is if it leads to more bigotry? Am I supposed to say thank you for his good intentions while Black men desperately in need of medical care from the corporation they gave their bodies to are rejected on the basis of those good intentions?

Perhaps I have answered my own question about why this policy is only just now being reported on widely, and why it was so casually mentioned in the past. The mainstream news media had no reason to report on the horror show of race norming because it was a nice thing that white liberals did for Black folks and that’s all that mattered.

Except now it really matters, because the health of Black NFL players and provisions for their families are on the line and doctors are using the “good intentions” to basically accuse Black players of being too retarded to incur serious brain injury.

NFL representatives claim that race norming is not official policy and is up to the independent doctors examining the players as to whether or not it will be employed. The applicants in the current suit against the NFL say that had they been white, race norming would not have applied and they would have won their injury support.

“If it wasn’t for the wives, who were infuriated by all the red tape involved, it never would have come to be,” Jenkins said of the attention being paid to the issue, three years after lawyers for former Pittsburgh Steelers Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport say they first raised it.

The binary race norms, when they are used in the testing, assumes that Black patients start with worse cognitive function than whites and other non-Blacks. That makes it harder for them to show a deficit and qualify for an award. Henry and Davenport, for instance, were denied awards but would have qualified had they been white, according to their lawsuit, which Brody dismissed in March, calling it an improper “collateral attack” on the settlement. They have appealed the ruling.

This horrific practice has not only proven to be detrimental to Black players, but is infuriating considering the lectures football fans have been subjected to recently about racism and Black Lives Matter. Customers who just want to watch men play football have been subjected to accusations about their politics and beliefs every time they sit down to watch the NFL. The self-righteousness has been palpable. Yet here we are, discovering that while the NFL has been lecturing you they are actually the worst offenders.

Let us not forget that this is the same organization that told Eugene Chung he could not avail himself of the league’s policy on making more room for minority coaching applicants because he was “not the right minority.”

So is race norming good or is race norming bad? The liberal press should have to answer that question but it will be fun to see the pretzels that will have to be tied to make any answer work.

And Dave, go apologize to George Will. He’s not a monster. He will be gracious.

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