Monday, July 26, 2021

For the good of the game; The NFL and Race Norming.

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( Football is America’s game.  With a pre-pandemic annual revenue of over $15 billion, the National Football League far outpaces other major North American sports franchises (Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League) and is the most lucrative sports league in the world.

After long denying a connection between football and brain injuries, the league announced a concussion settlement with former players in 2013 in the face of mounting evidence and a growing class-action suit.  Commissioner Roger Goodell supposedly instructed his lawyers to “do the right thing for the game and the men who played it.”  The outcome, however, was far from that and more akin to “the Devil is in the details” when the “race norming” situation was just uncovered.

Lower cognitive functioning

Two former players, Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry, dissatisfied with the process that denied their injury claims, filed their own lawsuits.  What their attorneys discovered is that before a claim could be paid, the degree of players’ injuries would be subject to race norming.  Formally called “within group score conversion”, this process directed that black and white players be treated differently.

The NFL’s version of race norming assumed black players start with “a lower level of cognitive functioning” than white players.  Therefore, black players would have to show a larger cognitive decline than white players in order to qualify for compensation.  Or, in plain English, on the road to brain injury and dysfunction from playing football, black guys had the shortest trip and their condition had to be adjusted for the longer ride by white guys in order to get paid.

Dr. Kathrine Possin of the Memory and Aging Center of the University of California, San Francisco said, “This case is reminiscent of a damaging century-long history of assuming that differences in intelligence tests are primarily inherited and then using this false assumption to legitimize unequal distribution of resources by social class.”

Several other neuropsychologists said “the league’s protocols superseded their professional judgement leading to drastically different outcomes for players seeking help.”


What about G.P.A.

Imagine, in the 21st century, an organization with a predominately black workforce, with black players among its biggest stars, assuming that any white player is smarter than every black player.  Especially in light of it being virtually impossible to play professional football without first attending college.

While the published guidelines for player compensation spoke to age and years in the league, the NFL ultimately gave more weight to race to “convert” scores than to things like schools attended, courses taken and grade point average.  That means a black player like Richard Sherman who graduated from Stanford would always score less than a white player who spent two years at a football factory.

Differing forms of race norming are found throughout American culture.  Starting with Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution that talks about “…three fifths of all other Persons.”

In medicine, the American Heart Association’s “Get with the Guidelines- Heart Failure Risk Score” assigns three additional points to any patient identified as “non-black”, leading black patients to be considered at lower risk, possibly resulting in more deaths, from heart attacks.

In criminal justice, the COMPAS (Conventional Offenders Management Profile for Alternative Solutions) system routinely returns scores indicating a higher risk of recidivism for black defendants, leading to less paroles and more jail time.

A recent news story reported how a black homeowner, suspicious of two low appraisals she received on her home, asked her white neighbor to pose as the owner and got a significantly higher third appraisal.

What comes next…

For anyone who denies the existence of “systemic racism” they need look no further than America’s favorite sport.  While they may love a black player’s brilliant talent for scoring touchdowns, they can overlook that same player unfairly getting lower scores for his cognitive abilities.  The race norming discovery in the concussion settlement was but a one-day news story and not even the NCAA, that touts its “student athletes”, weighed in to denounce this outright bias against players from their schools.

My daughter gave me her explanation of the difference between equality and equity.  “Equality means that everyone gets shoes” she said, “equity means everyone gets shoes that fit.”  While it may not be realistic to expect equal outcomes, we can certainly expect equal opportunities.  And equity when on the job, under the law, across the board.

We can settle for nothing less.

Staff Writer; Harry Sewell

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