EDITORIAL: NFL, at last, comes to realization that 'race-norming' should be discontinued

  • The NFL has promised to end the controversial practice of "race-norming."
  • "Race-norming" assumed Black players had a lower level of cognitive function.
  • The practice made it harder for Black NFL retirees to qualify for concussion payouts.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

The National Football League has finally seen the light.

It’s just too bad that it took an avalanche of bad publicity for Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league to finally reverse course on “race-norming.”

For those who missed it, the NFL has promised to end the controversial practice, which assumed Black players started out with a lower level of cognitive function. That assumption made it harder for Black NFL retirees to prove that they qualified for payouts in the 2017 $1 billion-plus concussion settlement.

The NFL only made the decision 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.

“Race-norming” sounds like something from the long-disgraced eugenics movement that aimed to improve the genetic quality of the human population by excluding people and groups judged to be inferior, while promoting those judged to be superior.

The NFL said in a statement that no actual discrimination took place in the administration of the settlement and that the “race-norming” practice was never mandatory, but left to the discretion of doctors taking part in the settlement program.

That sounds very much like double talk.

How the NFL could’ve considered the use of “race-norming” — under any circumstances — in a league that is 74% Black is almost mind boggling.

Harry Edwards: NFL's use of ‘race-norming’ was morally unconscionable, legally indefensible

Harry Edwards

Edwards weighs in: Harry Edwards, a noted sociologist and a longtime staff consultant for the San Francisco 49ers, has spent 50 years studying the intersection of sports and society.

He rightly called the “race-norming” practice by the NFL “ridiculous,” “asinine” and “almost comedic.” He added that it’s “morally unconscionable,” “politically unsustainable” and “legally indefensible.”

That’s quite a condemnation from a man who has long ties to the NFL.

Checkered history: Of course, the NFL’s history with race relations is checkered at best.

Here’s just a recent example.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl, but still can’t even get a tryout for an NFL job. Tim Tebow, meanwhile, was a first-round bust, but is still getting an NFL opportunity with the Jacksonville Jaguars at age 33 despite not playing in the league for more than six years.

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Kaepernick is Black and well known for social activism, especially his decision to kneel for the national anthem. Tebow is white and a beloved figure in Florida, where he starred for the Florida Gators.

History of foot-dragging: Then there’s the NFL’s foot-dragging when it came to the concussion issue in the first place.

The NFL spent years denying any link between head injuries suffered while playing football with long-term brain disorders.

Finally, in the 2017 concussion settlement, the league caved in to the obvious — football is a violent, collision sport that will lead to concussions, which can leave permanent brain damage.

The NFL likes to bill itself as an organization that is ahead of the curve on the issue of social justice. But when given the opportunity to act on those supposed beliefs, the league has repeatedly failed to act in an appropriate and timely manner.

At least the NFL has finally come to the realization that “race-norming” has no place in the concussion settlement.

It’s just unfortunate that it took the league so long to see the light.