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NFL set to propose fix to ‘race-norming’ in dementia testing as part of concussion settlement changes



PHILADELPHIA — The NFL is set to propose changes to the $1 billion concussion settlement on Wednesday after an outcry over test score adjustments known as “race-norming,” which make it harder for retired Black players to win dementia awards that average $500,000 or more.

The new testing formula, developed during months of closed-door negotiations with players’ lawyers, will remain secret until a federal judge reviews it. That means the 1,435 NFL retirees whose dementia claims have been denied, many or most of them Black, won’t immediately know how the changes could affect them.

They also won’t know if their prior tests will simply be rescored, or if they must endure another grueling round of cognitive testing.

“The NFL should be really enraged about the race norming. …. That should be unacceptable to them and all of their sponsors,” said Roxanne “Roxy” Gordon, whose husband, a Stanford University graduate, finds himself at 40 unable to work.

Amon Gordon has twice qualified for an advanced dementia award only to have the decision overturned for reasons that aren’t yet clear to them. His case remains on review before the federal appeals court in Philadelphia.

The NFL had agreed in June to halt the use of “race-norming,” which assumes Black players start with lower cognitive function. That makes it harder to show they suffer from a mental deficit linked to their playing days.

The binary scoring system in dementia testing — one for Black people, one for everyone else – was developed by neurologists in the 1990s as a crude way to factor in a patient’s socioeconomic background. Experts say it was never meant to be used to determine payouts in a court settlement.

Of the approximately 20,000 NFL retirees who have registered for the settlement program — which offers monitoring, testing and, for some, compensation — more than 2,000 sought awards for early or advanced dementia.

Only 30% have gotten them. The awards average $715,000 for those with advanced dementia and $523,000 for those with early dementia.

The vast majority of the league’s players — 70% of active players and more than 60% of living retirees — are Black.

“If the new process eliminates race-norming and more people qualify, that’s great,” said Ken Jenkins, a Black NFL retiree who does not have an impairment but advocates for those who do.

“(But) we’re not going to get everything we wanted,” Jenkins, an insurance executive, said Tuesday. “We want full transparency of all the demographic information from the NFL – who’s applied, who’s been paid.”

He and other critics want to see a breakdown by race of the $821 million paid to date through the program. It’s not clear the court will make that data public, although he and others have also asked the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to open an inquiry.

The issue first came to light in 2019, when former Steelers Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry filed a civil rights lawsuit that exposed the unequal testing formula.

Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, who has overseen the settlement for a decade, dismissed the suit on procedural grounds. But as the uproar over race-norming intensified this year, she ordered the lawyers who negotiated the 2013 settlement — New York plaintiffs lawyer Christopher Seeger for the players and Brad Karp for the NFL — to work with a mediator to address it.

She later allowed lawyers for Davenport and Henry to join the talks, and issued a gag order on everyone involved.

In the meantime, the Gordons and other NFL families wait.

“His life is ruined,” Roxy Gordon said of her husband, who spent more than a decade in the league as a defensive tackle or defensive end.

He hoped to work afterward with children in urban areas like the one in Seattle where he grew up, she said. Instead, she cannot depend on him to pick up their 10-year-old son from school near San Diego.

“He’s a 40-year-old educated male who can’t even use his skills,” she said. “It’s been horrible.”

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Baltimore Ravens fire defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale, source says



The Baltimore Ravens have fired defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale with one year remaining on his contract, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh issued a statement Friday saying he and Martindale “agreed to move forward in separate directions.”

“We have had a great run on defense, and I am very proud of what has been accomplished and the work he has done,” Harbaugh said in his statement. “Don has been a major contributor to the success of our defense since 2012, and especially since he became defensive coordinator four years ago. He has done a great job. Now it is time to pursue other opportunities.

“Sometimes the moment comes, and it’s the right time. I am personally grateful for our friendship and for everything he has done in Baltimore.”

The Ravens (8-9) this season became the first team in the past 19 seasons to go from being the No. 1 seed in the conference to failing to make the playoffs six weeks later, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Ravens fell to 25th in the league in points and yards allowed this season, after they led the league in points (18.2) and yards allowed (307.8) in Martindale’s first three seasons as defensive coordinator (2018 to ’20).

Just one year ago, Ravens players were shocked that Martindale wasn’t contacted for any NFL head coaching vacancies. A year later, he is out with the Ravens and is expected to be a hot candidate for any assistant coach vacancy around the league.

Baltimore has a number of areas to address on defense this offseason with the team perhaps looking to add four new starters on that side of the ball. The Ravens managed just 34 sacks this season, which ranked 22nd in the league.

Defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams — who combined for 1,012 snaps this season — are entering free agency this offseason, and middle linebacker is also an area of concern after the team moved former first-round pick Patrick Queen out of that spot.

The secondary, meanwhile, needs a playmaking safety and a No. 3 cornerback.

ESPN’s Jamison Hensley contributed to this report.

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San Francisco 49ers DE Nick Bosa clears concussion protocol, will play Saturday vs. Green Bay Packers



GREEN BAY, Wis. — For most of the week, San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa was seemingly on the right track to be able to play in Saturday’s NFC divisional-round matchup against the Green Bay Packers.

On Friday, the Niners removed all doubt when they announced that Bosa has officially cleared concussion protocol and no longer has an injury designation heading into the showdown with Green Bay.

Put simply: Bosa will play against the Packers, which is no small thing given his importance to San Francisco’s defense. Bosa led the 49ers in sacks this season with 15.5, adding an NFL-high 21 tackles for loss and 52 tackles.

Bosa’s clearance comes after a week during which multiple Niners players and coaches expressed cautious optimism he’d be ready to go.

“He’s come along well going through the NFL protocol,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said Wednesday. “Definitely need him out there.”

On Friday, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said it was “looking good” for Bosa to clear the final steps of the protocol as he did on Friday.

All of that came after the scary collision Bosa had with defensive tackle D.J. Jones in the second quarter of last week’s 23-17 win against the Dallas Cowboys. Jones accidentally hit Bosa in the head with his knee as the pair converged on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

Bosa did not return to that game but was able to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday, which were the first signs that he was trending in the right direction to return. Bosa was also seen participating in the team’s Friday walkthrough at Bay Port High School in Green Bay.

In addition to announcing that Bosa cleared concussion protocol, the 49ers elevated cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Mark Nzeocha from the practice squad to the active roster on Friday afternoon.

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Green Bay Packers get pass-rushers Za’Darius Smith, Whitney Mercilus back vs. San Francisco 49ers



GREEN BAY, Wis. — Add Za’Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus to the list of players the Green Bay Packers will have back for Saturday night’s NFC divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers.

The veteran pass-rushers were activated off injured reserve on Friday, clearing them to return from lengthy absences. That came a day after the Packers did the same for receiver Randall Cobb.

Smith has not played since the regular season opener, when he aggravated a back injury that limited him throughout training camp. He played 18 snaps in that game and then underwent surgery. Mercilus tore the bicep in his left arm on Nov. 14 against the Seahawks.

Neither is expected to start and both likely will be on limited snap counts because of their lengthy absences.

Smith was expected to be one of the key players in new defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s system this season. He was coming off back-to-back seasons with double-digit sacks, and his 26-sack total from the last two seasons combined ranked third in the NFL, behind only Aaron Donald and T.J. Watt. But the second-team All-Pro in 2020 missed most of training camp because of back issues, and after playing 18 snaps in the season opener, he underwent surgery and has not played since.

Mercilus, who was signed on Oct. 21 just days after he was released by the Texans, was once thought to be lost for the season in his fourth game with the Packers, but he made a surprising return to practice last week.

Their addition, even in limited roles, means the Packers have four proven veteran pass-rushers, including Rashan Gary and Preston Smith. The Packers released defensive tackle Jack Heflin and cornerback Isaac Yiadom, who both have been the team all season, to make room for Smith and Mercilus.

There are still questions about whether left tackle David Bakhtiari and cornerback Jaire Alexander will be available on Saturday. Both were listed as questionable on the injury report.

Bakhtiari missed more than a year with a torn ACL but returned for the regular-season finale at Detroit. He played the first 27 snaps of that game, and it was believed to be a precursor to him playing full-time when the playoffs started.

But Bakhtiari practiced only one day this week — the second of three practices — and was listed as questionable. Alexander hasn’t played since his Week 4 shoulder injury. Both he and Bakhtiari are already on the 53-man roster, so no additional move needed to be made in order for them to play.

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