Why did NFL take this long for about-face on 'race-norming'? Add this to its track record of institutional racism.

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·4 min read
This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

If it wasn't crystal clear before now, it should be.

There's the fact that in the NFL's over 100 years of existence, only one Black man has held the title of team president.

There's the mostly empty promises of "doing better next year" when it comes to hiring Black and ethnic minority head coaches, coordinators and front office executives, only to see those candidates passed over for others who team owners find most acceptable at their exclusive country clubs.

There's the need for rules mandating interviewing non-white coaches and now an incentive to hiring one.

And there's knowing that the league — and so we're clear, this means the franchise owners — expelled a talented Black quarterback from its ranks because he spoke up about citizens being killed in the streets by agents of the state with little to no accountability. This happened as the league bowed to a faction of loud fans that were stirred up by the racist rhetoric of a commander-in-chief to whom several NFL team owners donated millions.

Did you think that late Houston Texans owner Bob McNair had a slip of the tongue when he called players "inmates" in front of fellow team owners and was alone in that belief? 

The NFL is doing away with race-norming practices that harmed former Black players who were part of the billion-dollar concussion settlement with the league. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
The NFL is doing away with race-norming practices that harmed former Black players who were part of the billion-dollar concussion settlement with the league. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Did you believe commissioner Roger Goodell when he was pressed into recording a video where he said "we believe Black lives matter" and condemned systemic racism?

Perhaps now you will see, beyond all shadow of a doubt, that the NFL is a racist institution. 

Not just was. Not just used to be.

Is. Right now

Until this week, when it finally felt enough public pressure and enough people got wind of what it was doing, the league was essentially pressing doctors to use race-based information to deny retired Black players settlement money they deserved because of the physical and mental pain they are enduring after a career in football. It enforced the idea that Black people as a whole do not have the same level of cognitive function as non-Black people, and therefore any proven decline in their cognitive function wasn't much of a loss. The NFL was fully behind a categorically racist system of denying retired Black players settlement money they were owed.

Until this week, when it finally, per usual, caved to public pressure and negative PR, the NFL essentially told Black players that all it ever wanted from them was to be entertained. Once their bodies and brains were broken beyond repair, once they'd done what they could to delight the majority-billionaire white owners in their gilded luxury boxes, the league was done with them.

Your Black body is useless to us and your Black brain is broken, but we don't think it was that valuable to begin with. Good luck.

The truth is, NFL team owners don't really care about the vast majority of players, white, Black or otherwise, especially once they stop wearing the uniform of the team they own. "Football is family" is a myth, used only for peppy commercials between quarters. Based on the league's use of "race-norming," retired white players who went through the hoops of seeing NFL-approved neuropsychologists and neurologists, filled out paperwork and met requirements received money at higher rates than retired Black players. It's money they're owed through the settlement the NFL is required to pay. The league won't release numbers on the racial breakdown of who has received settlement money. 

In February, ABC News reported data from a neuropsychologist who has worked on behalf of the NFL. Of the 85 Black players in the data sample, 34 met the criteria to receive payouts using the requirements for white players. When the clinician applied the requirements for Black players, only 10 of those players qualified. Under the standards applied to white players, eight of those Black former players were scored at a Level 2 in terms of neuro-cognitive impairment, meaning they had signs of moderate dementia and a severe decline in cognitive function. When the NFL's preferred method — factoring in their race — was applied, they were adjusted to Level 0, or no impairment.

No impairment, no money.

A league spokesman said Wednesday that the NFL will no longer used the race-based norms, and will retroactively award funds to players who would have received them had the norms not been used. In other words, they will stop penalizing players for the color of their skin. For many of those former players, the damage is done, not just in the message they received from the league about their worth as human beings but in being denied money, that could have helped them get the care and tangible relief so many of them need sooner.

Some of us have always known, but now it's clearer than ever. 

When Goodell said "we the NFL believe Black lives matter," he clearly didn't mean equally.

More from Yahoo Sports: