Today, Rep. Burgess Owens (UT-04), waiving onto the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, released the following statement regarding NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s knowledge of race norming, a league practice that used racist stereotypes to disqualify Black players from concussion settlements.
“Thank you, Chairwoman Maloney, Ranking Member Comer, and members of this committee, for holding this hearing and especially for allowing me to participate. I’d also like to thank Commissioner Goodell for coming before the Committee today. It has long been a dream of mine to ask the Commissioner some questions.
“The term racism is thrown around today with alarming and casual frequency. For example, according to Newsweek, requiring Black individuals to get an ID to vote is racist. According to NBC News, requiring college applicants to include letters of recommendation in their applications is racist. Or my absolute favorite, a recent USA Today headline asking if math is racist. What’s truly racist is this condescending soft bigotry of low expectations that has for too long plagued my community.
“It was prevalent when I entered the NFL in 1973, where it was understood that certain positions were reserved for Whites only. Positions of leadership and intelligence like QB, Center, Middle Linebacker, Free Safety, and Head Coaches were considered off-limits for Black players. Doug Williams finally broke the “White quarterback” barrier in 1988 as the NFL’s first Black quarterback to both start and win a Super Bowl. Yet, Commissioner, decades later, despite all this progress on and off the field, we’re once again forced to discuss, under your watch, the NFL’s engagement in racism behind the scenes.
“In June 2021, the NFL was forced to announce that it was ending its practice of “race norming’ when paying out compensation for players experiencing brain damage due to concussions on the field. The NFL had for years used separate tests based on race to score the players’ cognitive threshold. The test taken by Black football players was different than White players; this result determined if financial compensation was warranted.
“Doctors were required to use race-based norms that assumed Black players were inherently less intelligent than their White teammates. If this sounds like a throwback to the Jim Crow laws of the Deep South – that’s because it is.
“This practice came to an end only after a lawsuit against the league by two former NFL players who were accidentally given cognitive tests normally reserved for White players. When they both qualified for compensation the NFL demanded that they be tested again. This time, when the clinician applied the race-norming algorithm recommended by the NFL program manual, they were denied compensation.
“As a result of this practice, the NFL compensated injured Black football players and their families less than White players and their families. To say that Black players should be judged by a lower standard of brain function than their White teammates are, without question, a perfect example of real racism.
“I speak on behalf of my White and Black brothers over the many decades who competed and gave their blood, sweat, and tears to break down the evil walls of Racism. We did it through meritocracy, camaraderie, and friendship – earning the privilege to see each other from inside out versus outside in.
“With all due respect, Commissioner, you are at the helm of an industry, whose culture once unified us – both fans and players. Sadly, that is no longer the case. I hope one day soon, the NFL once again becomes a force that unites us rather than divides us. I look forward to continuing this conversation in the months ahead.