Clinicians see racial inequity in NFL concussion payouts

Some clinicians who evaluate former NFL players lament that the league’s protocols supersede their professional judgment.
6:12 | 02/03/21

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Transcript for Clinicians see racial inequity in NFL concussion payouts
Oh, goodness gracious. We'll continue with that ABC news exclusive. The investigation into a lawsuit claiming the NFL uses race as a factor in determining which former players are compensated for suffering head injuries. Ryan Smith joins us now with this very disturbing story. Good morning, Ryan. Reporter: Good morning, robin. 70% of NFL players are black but a lawsuit filed by two black former players claims that when it comes to being compensated for head injuries sustained while playing the game, they are held to a different standard. Former defensive lineman kyiven Henry played eight seasons for the Pittsburgh steelers. Now, he says he's battling memory loss, headache, depression and bouts of anger, all symptoms of what he suspects are the long-term effects of the head injuries he sustained on the field. Football doesn't give you an expiration date. You just expire. I've had ten concussions or more and at least 17 surgeries. 17. And I'm still getting them. Reporter: In 2017, a neurologist determined that Henry was suffering from a cogny five decline consistent with mild dementia and submitted a claim to the landmark 2013 NFL concussion stlement program which paid former players suffering from the effects of head injuries. What was the result of the claim you filed? I was denied. And we're asked to function in our daily lives like normal human beings. Reporter: In its rejection of Henry's claim the claims administrator questioned whether his performance on the test was valid and asserted that the doctor used inappropriate norms. Two years later Henry went in for another evaluation with a neuropsychologist. This clinician used an NFL recommended formula that took into account age, gender, education and race. And concluded that Henry did not qualify for compensation. How did you react when you learned that there was a different standard being used for black players to get benefits as compared to white players? I felt so betrayed and I still feel that way. Two different systems? How can that be okay? Why should that be okay? Reporter: It's a controversial practice known as race norming. In medicine it's supposed to help doctors make better diagnosis by using race to make assumptions about a patient's background but critics say it is not an accurate tool and has no place in the settlement program. Well, the effect is it drastically limits the amount of damages they're going to have to pay out. It's almost the classic definition of racial cripple nation using race as a basis of denying benefits to a disadvantaged or subordinated group because of race. Reporter: And now in a lawsuit Henry and another former player are accusing the NFL of avoiding paying head injury claims based on a formula that requires race-norming. They say the practice is discriminatory because it assumes black players start at a lower cognitive level than white players and that makes it harder for black former players to qualify for compensation. I just want to be looked at the same way as a white guy. We went out together and we played hard together. There was no white or black thing. We lost together. We won together. Whenever a clinician, a neuropsychologist tries to use something other than black norms or black players and white norms for white players the NFL has kiss -- consistently attacked them. Reporter: Several neuropsychologists who work with the NFL privately discussing the lawsuit saying they feel that factoring for race was all but required under the program. One saying if they didn't use the racial norms there would be multiple inquiries levied at them. Another saying their required reliance on racial norms, bottom line, do discriminate against black players. In a statement to ABC news, the NFL calls the lawsuit entirely misguided. The league says the race-norming, part of what they call demographic correction is rimmed but not required. And the concussion settlement was agreed to by all parties with the assistance of expert neuropsychological clinicians and relies on widely accepted and long established testing methods. When you hear them say we stand against social injustice, we stand against racism and black lives matter, what do you think? Liars. They're liars, man. It sounds great, don't it? We stand with you. Boy, that sounds good. Reporter: So far the league has received around 3,000 claims for compensation paying out about 1200 of those to former players and their families totaling about $800 million but the NFL has repeatedly denied requests to release demographic data on people receiving settlements. They continue to -- say that again, what has the NFL refused to do, Ryan? They've repeatedly denied requests to release demographic information on those who received settlements so it's hard to tell who has received settlements. That's the information difficult to tell. 2450ed that, Ryan. Thanks very much. Transparency needed. They were on that field they won and lost together and should be treated equally the same and it's 2021 and we're still dealing with these issues. Demographic correction. This is a league that's 70% black and impacts a lot of players, a lot of African-American players. You can see the full report on this investigation with Ryan tonight on "Nightline."

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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