Two retired players have accused the N.F.L. of “explicitly and deliberately” discriminating against hundreds if not thousands of Black players who filed dementia-related claims in the landmark concussion settlement reached in 2013, making it harder for them to qualify for payouts worth as much as $3 million.
In two legal actions filed Tuesday in United States District Court in Philadelphia, the players asked that the judge stop the league from insisting that race-based benchmarks be used to evaluate players’ claims. They also asked that the scores on Black players’ neurocognitive exams be recalculated using “race-neutral” scales that would put them on an even footing with white players.
“In effect, the settlement, as it has been administered, has a white door and a Black door,” said Cyril Smith, a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder and the lead counsel for two Black players, Najeh Davenport, a former running back, and Kevin Henry, a longtime defensive end. “Although the neurocognitive tests behind each door are the same, the raw scores for Black and white former players are interpreted differently when they are converted” to scores that are used to determine whether a player is eligible for a payment.
The N.F.L. had not responded to request for comment at the time of publication.
The allegations of systematic discrimination are the latest and perhaps most damning criticism of the settlement, which has been stung by delays, predatory lenders, accusations of fraud and a lack of transparency since players began filing claims four years ago.
They come at a particularly awkward time for the N.F.L., which has battled the perception that it has dismissed the concerns of Black players, who make up about 70 percent of the league’s active players.
It is unclear what percentage of Black players have had their dementia claims denied compared to white ex-players because the settlement administrator does not publish data on the race of applicants. However, lawyers for the two players who brought the legal actions this week said that a majority of the 20,000 or so retirees are Black. About two-thirds of the roughly 3,000 claims submitted by all ex-players have been for dementia, and about three-quarters of those claims have been denied.
This is a developing story that will update.