PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Hundreds of black NFL retirees have been denied payments under the $1 billion concussion settlement now eligible for rewards after their tests were corrected to eliminate racial bias .
Changes to the regulations last year aim to make blind testing. The use of ‘racial norm’ in dementia testing has made it harder for black people to prove they have the kind of cognitive decline that qualifies retired gamers for rewards averaging $500,000 or more.
Nearly 650 men had their dementia tests automatically reassessed, according to a report released Friday by the NFL Claims Law Firm. The retirees had met the other criteria for a successful claim, which includes hours of proof-testing to show their daily lives are significantly impaired and they are not faking it.
Fifty-one now qualify for moderate to advanced dementia awards, which vary by condition and years of play. Nearly 250 are showing signs of early onset dementia and will receive up to $35,000 in tests and treatment improved medical. All failed to qualify at the start due to racing standards issues during testing.
New test results will add millions to total NFL payouts
Thousands of other black retirees meanwhile can request retesting to see if they qualify under the revised scoring formula. But ex-player advocates fear many will know, especially if they have memory issues and live alone.
“Men who are homeless, men who originally registered but have changed cognitive function, men who are divorced or isolated – we’ll be looking for them,” said Amy Lewis, who with her husband, retired Washington player Ken Jenkins, asked the judge handling the case and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to address the issue of racial normalization.
The couple, once critical of class attorney Chris Seeger for his response to the question, are now working with him to spread the word.
At the end of the day, Lewis said, she doesn’t care if she’s “inside the tent, outside the tent,” as long as more men get help. to navigate the claims process. Many cases drag on for years.
An NFL spokesperson did not immediately return a phone call Friday morning or respond to emails sent in recent weeks seeking comment on the new scoring.
Seeger — the lead attorney for the roughly 20,000 retired players, who negotiated the settlement with the NFL — apologized for initially failing to see the extent of racial bias. He promised in a recent interview to “make sure the NFL pays every penny it should.”
The league’s tally just topped $1 billion in approved claims. However, appeals and audits mean actual payments are behind that number – and now stand at around $916 million. They include benefits for four other compensable diagnoses: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and deaths before April 2015 involving CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
As examiners grapple with the thorniest dementia claims, the process has slowed and the NFL’s appeals have intensified. Today, nearly four in 10 dementia claims are verified by Richmond-based claims administrator BrownGreer, even after intervention by program doctors and expert panels.
“Their mantra is deny, deny, delay until you die,” said James Pruitt, 58, a wide receiver who played for Indianapolis and Miami from 1986 to 1991.
After retiring from the NFL, Pruitt became a teacher and college principal in Palm Beach County, Florida. But in 2010, in his mid-40s, the district asked him to step down. He could no longer perform his duties.
Over time, he stopped calling friends from his playing days.
“I don’t go out and I don’t remember a lot of things. I was told I was repeating things,” he said. “So I’m a bit embarrassed by the whole situation.”
After the settlement was approved in 2015, he and his wife attended meetings with attorneys who traveled the country to sell the plan to groups of retired gamers.
“We were told…it was going to be a very simple process, you just have to go to the doctors, get a qualifying diagnosis from them,” said Traci Pruitt, 42. “Still, here we are six years later, and we’re still doing the rounds.
The couple have been approved by doctors twice, but the decision was overturned – once after their first doctor was removed from the program. Their lawyer thinks they will pass on their third try, under the race-neutral scoring formula. They are still waiting to hear.
Traci Pruitt, an accountant who works from home, said an award would get her the help she needs to care for her husband: “Although I love him, I don’t necessarily this experience and these skills.”
That the testing algorithm adjusted scores by race — as a rough indicator of someone’s socioeconomic background — went unnoticed for several years until former Pittsburgh Steelers attorneys Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport expose it in a lawsuit in 2020. The formula had been adopted from a formula used in medicine to help diagnose dementia – but was never intended to be used to determine payments under legal compensation.
Seeger said he thinks the claims process is picking up speed after a slow start.
“I know people have said they haven’t been moving this well for a while. I think we’ve won appeal battles with the courts,” Seeger said. “I don’t think the NFL expected to pay $1 billion – and we’re about to go over $1 billion.”
___ Follow AP Legal Affairs Writer Maryclaire Dale on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Maryclairedale