NFL Concussion Settlement: Can the League Make Football Safer?

With the NFL playoffs underway, fans have been treated to exciting matchups and some entertaining plays. However, this football season has had multiple serious injuries that raises questions about how safe the game really is for players.

Conversations around the NFL’s concussion protocol has been heightened with the Miami Dolphins’ decision to let their starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa play in Cincinnati after he hit his head just four days prior in a game against the Buffalo Bills. Fans, concussion experts, and former players criticized the Dolphins’ move and questions surrounding Tua’s career in the NFL have been expressed.

Many have called on the NFL to re-evaluate its policies and practices when it comes to players’ health and safety. The NFL should work to make the sport safer when players are off the field and when they retire. Last year, the NFL updated its concussion settlement to allow retired players to have their claims rescored. The original concussion settlement, finalized in 2015, applies to serious head trauma related injuries and brain diseases. The NFL agreed to compensate players diagnosed with dementia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Parkinson’s and other related brain disorder and diseases, but used “race-norming” to deny claims from Black players. However, the NFL decided to allow its players to claim a further $100 million or more in compensation in 2022. This decision arose out of retired players Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry’s use of legal action in 2020 against the League for discriminating against Black players who seek compensation for dementia related payments. They alleged that doctors used “race-norming” to alter their neurocognitive test scores which resulted in them not getting compensation for their injuries.

Race-norming is the process in which Black people receive lower scores on cognitive tests because of a racist assumption that they must have lower cognitive abilities in general. The lower average baseline makes it more difficult for Black players to claim they have suffered serious cognitive impairment. The League claims that it is up to the doctors to use race-norming and that doctors have failed to update their practice. Doctors argue that the League is incorrect, and that they had been told to continue the practice. Regardless, the NFL has allowed race-norming to occur, thus failing to award retired Black players with the compensation they deserve.

These changes are significant as a majority of the League’s players are Black. If the racial disparity is discarded in testing players’ cognitive health, more players will have the chance to receive compensation. Conversations surrounding the safety associated with the sport of football will continue to happen. Although football players’ job is to entertain us, the question arises – is asking players to risk their lives during games for our entertainment justified? When the NFL community watched Bills Safety Damar Hamlin collapse during Monday night football, it was a serious realization that football players put their lives on the line every time they step on the field. The NFL needs to continue protecting its players and ensure their safety is more important than the game.

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