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tv   Nightline  ABC  June 3, 2021 12:37am-1:06am PDT

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tonight, reflecting on a painful past. the former nfl player. >> it hurts. it do, it hurts. >> accusing the league's concussion panel program of racism. >> i feel like i've been betrayed, looked at as less than. >> and facing the heat. the attorney behind that landmark concussion settlement now with a stunning admission after families say he failed them. >> i was wrong. >> and on the heels of an abc news investigation, the major announcement from the nfl. pledging to end the use of the controversial practice known as race-norming. this special edition of "nightline," "out of bounds," will be right back. h flings odors onto your soft surfaces? then they get release back into the air,
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put off chores and use less energy from 4 to 9 pm to help keep our state golden. ♪ good evening, everyone. thanks so much for joining us. i'm linsey davis. tonight, the fight to level the playing field. black former nfl players living with the aftermath of head injuries sustained in the game accusing the league's concussion settlement program of discrimination. now the nfl pledging to end that controversial practice known as race-norming, just as the outrage reaches a tipping point.
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here's abc's ryan smith. >> i chose to give everything that i had when playing for these teams. and then not being able to be supported by the fraternity that i gave my all to is hurtful. >> reporter: for lewis leonard, a former nfl defensive tackle, this is personal. months after an abc news investigation examined allegations of racial bias in the nfl's concussion settlement program, lewis and his wife lacy are demanding answers. >> they're making money off the backs of our husbands and our fathers and our brothers. >> i understand that it's a business. but it hurts. it do, it hurts. >> reporter: the leonards are joining a growing chorus of black former nfl players and their families speaking out about the protocols used to
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determine compensation for some head injuries on the field. like kevin henry and najeh davenport, who spoke to abc about their lawsuit against the nfl. >> i'm looked at differently, and it pisses me off. >> that's literally the definition of systematic racism with this race-norming stuff. >> reporter: at the center of the firestorm is a controversial practice known as race-norming, which is coming under scrutiny. critics say it's discriminatory as it's being used because it assumes black players start at a lower cognitive level than white ones. making it harder for black players to prove enough damage to qualify for payouts. >> intentionally going about making sure that there's two sets of metrics used for black players than white players is insulting. >> reporter: amid mounting pressure, nfl commissioner roger goodell faced questions from reporters ahead of this year's
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super bowl. >> are you guys looking into this? i know a report also surfaced on abc that some doctors actually fear discrimination is taking place. >> we'll continue to see if there are changes that need to be made, but those will be determined by the court. >> reporter: then in march, in a surprise move, the federal judge presiding over the settlement ordered the nfl to reopen negotiations with the class of former players to addres concerns about race-norming. hours before our story went to air, in a statement to abc news, the nfl pledged to eliminate race-norming from the program, saying they've assembled experts to identify alternative testing techniques. attorney chris seger is representing the former players. he's the same man who negotiated the original settlement. but he's now under fire himself from several outraged players and their families. >> i'm really sorry that anybody, anybody, any client of mine in this program, has been made to feel that way. that is a big mistake, it was a
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failure of the system. >> reporter: now in an exclusive interview with abc news, seeger is making a shocking admission. >> i was wrong. >> reporter: after years of controversy, in 2013, the nfl and thousands of retired football players came to a landmark agreement. hundreds of millions of dollars have already been paid out to more than 1,000 players suffering from the lingering effects of head injuries. seeger was its chief architect and its biggest cheerleader. >> you're not going to hear me try to claim that it's perfect. it's the result of litigation and nothing that comes out of a little is perfect, but it's good. >> they were tough negotiations. probably the one case in my career where there was a lot of storming out of the room, yelling and screaming. >> reporter: and now, eight years later, se. ger and the nfl are back in top secret negotiations. >> where do those negotiations stand? >> i'm on top of this, and i'm going to eliminate race-norming from the settlement. if i can't do it by agreement, i'm going to go to court, and
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we'll do it that way. in addition i need to conduct an investigation, which i'm in the process of doing. if that results in me having to score every single claim again, especially where race-norming was applied, i will fight to have that done. >> we're talking about millions and millions and millions of dollars, maybe more, that the nfl might have to pay out if you look back and you look at all the people that maybe should have received compensation but didn't because of that issue. do you think the nfl is likely to go for that? >> the ability to pay is there. there's no question about it. we've got 32 billionaires there, they've got plenty of money. >> for former black players and their wives and their families who have felt discriminated against, what argument do you make to them as to why you are the best person to represent them in this process? >> i'm fully cognizant of this country's history of what has happened to black people in this country. i can't say i'm walking in someone else's shoes but i'm not oblivious to it. this has got to be fixed. this is deeper than the nfl
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settlement. >> reporter: hanging in the balance are families. this doctor's appointment is one of about 100 that lewis, at 36 years old, said he has to go to every year. told he and his wife lacy are seeing his primary care fit after a hospital stay for a kidney infection. >> chronic kidney disease. >> reporter: it's one of many ailments lewis lives with. what's worse the leonards say are injuries you can't say. cognitive damage that affects memory and mood, leading the couple to divorce at one point. >> i started seeing a lot of personality changes. there was a lot of the things that back then, i didn't realize was even attributed to what he was dealing with cognitively, which knowing what i know now, really affected our marriage. >> reporter: the two eventually rec sailed, but day-to-day life is still a struggle. >> i dealt with a lot of different things. lack of sleep, impulsive behavior, kind of just doing things and not really knowing
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why. >> reporter: in 2017, lewis was evaluated by two clinicians to see if he was eligible for compensation for the nfl's concussion settlement program. both found lewis at 33 had moderate dementia. a settlement administrator approved him for close to a $2 million payout. >> it really broke me down. that's the first time that i really understood i had something going on mentally. >> reporter: but the nfl appealed, claiming among other things the testing protocols that were used were patently inconsistent with the program's guidelines. the nfl recommends clinicians adjust test scores for factors like age, gender, education, and race. also known as race-norming. how did it make you feel to see the nfl appealing that, saying, well, maybe the right standards weren't applied? >> it hurts, because i know what i deal with. >> it's sad.
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let's be clear. who is really keeping the nfl dollars in? it's these black players. it's 70% black. so to make it harder for these men to receive the benefits that they so rightfully deserve is really disappointing and extremely sad. >> reporter: some doctors use race to make assumptions about a patient's background. supposedly helping them make better diagnoses. but the practice is coming under increasing scrutiny, from critics who believe it can lead to discrimination. the league says the doctors were supposed to use it at their own discretion on a case-by-case basis, that it's recommended and not required. but when one of lewis' clinicians did not adjust his scores to account for race, the league objected. >> i just wondered, how many other players have had the same experience? and unfortunately, the nfl hasn't come clean or come forth with who actually has been given awards. >> what's your biggest concern as you move forward with your
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case? >> our case was denied. so i guess my only concern is that people will be held accountable for what they're doing to these players. >> i went from being, you know, full-time working mom, to having to reduce my hours at work because i was finding myself really needing to be there at the appointment so that i can, you know, have a better understanding of what lewis is going through. and i think sometimes the underlying issues are left unheard. >> reporter: lacy has joined a sisterhood of wives who support each other while caring for their husbands. roxanne gordon brought these women together. fueled in part by her own frustrations. after the nfl appealed the claim award for her husband, amman gordon, a former defensive end. i think anyone watching today would wonder, why are you here and not your husbands?
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>> having traumatic brain injury from repeated head injury, alone, coping through the day, is difficult enough. to have them sit and regurgitate this and talk about this is -- for some of our husbands, it's almost impossible. >> i think the public has this image of nfl players, they think of it as being glamorous. what would you say to that? >> oh, i would definitely say, don't believe everything you see. when they come home to us, battered and bruised, we're the ones taking care of them. >> understand that there is another layer to this entertainment that you perceive. >> reporter: the wives are taking aim not only at the nfl, also at chris seeger, whose firm received over $50 million in legal feels. >> we all feel that he has really sold our families out. we would like him removed as counsel and have an impartial group of class counsel seated in his stead.
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>> reporter: one of the wives, amy lewis, even started an online petition which not only calls for an end to race-norming, but also calls for seeger's removal. it's received more than 50,000 signatures. on this day, she and her husband, former washington running back ken jenkins, joined by brooke and her husband, clarence vaughn, a former washington strong safety, are delivering that petition to the federal judge overseeng the case, to keep the public pressure on the court and on seeger. >> we first need to get chris seeger thrown out on his ear. >> we request that you remove chris seeger as the players' attorney of record. does that concern you, especially at a time you're now charged with trying to fix this issue? >> i care about my clients. i have a lot more happy clients than unhappy clients in this settlement. i don't know anybody who clicked yes on that petition. or if i really want to spend a lot of my time dealing with an online petition. >> you don't feel this is representative of the players you represent? >> not at all.
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not only do i not feel it, i know it's not. i know it's not. it's not representative of the players, it's not representative of my position. if i was wrong and their claim was downscored because of race-norming, it will get rescored, and they will get their money. i'm the guy fixing it. when we come back, chris seeger answering his critics, admitting he was wrong when it comes to race-norming. >> i didn't have a full appreciation of the scope of the problem. >> reporter: seeger claims he was not the only one responsible. >> do i think they were wrong to do it? 110% they were wrong. me down) ♪ ♪ and mess me around ♪ ♪ and then worst of all ♪ ♪ (worst of all) ♪ ♪ you never call, baby ♪ ♪ when you... ♪ ♪ say you will... ♪ carl. what have you done? think anyone will notice? yes. yeah. if you ride, you get it. yeah, they will. geico motorcycle. fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more.
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>> i feel like i've been betrayed, neglected, looked at as less than. >> reporter: in 2017, two clinicians found lewis leonard had moderate dement yeah qualifying him for a multimillion-dollar award from the nfl. but the league appealed because, among other things, lewis' clin anythings did not use the nfl's recommended race norms. >> it was really discouraging. he sacrificed so much for me and our family. i feel like he deserves to have a quality life. >> reporter: chris seeger, the league counsel for players and their concussion settlement with the nfl, is now under fire from a growing number of his own clients who feel he let them down in the original negotiations. would you agree to a deal with the nfl surrounding this issue that continued to use any sort of race-norming?
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>> no. >> would you agree to a deal that said that you can't look back -- >> no. >> -- and compensate players? >> no. >> reporter: though he is critical of race-norming now, just three months ago, seeger himselves told abc news he saw no evidence of racial bias in the settlement. >> i was wrong. i didn't have a full appreciation of the scope of the problem. the practice of law is just that, a practice. when you think you know everything, sometimes you don't. but the closer i looked, the more i realized this had to go. >> reporter: but the question remains, how did race-norming, also known as demographic adjust, become part of the settlement program in the first place? >> when you go back to 2013, 2014, it was always in there as a possibility. demographic adjustments were always part, because they were part of neuro psychology, were part of the settlement agreement. >> do you feel that it was required? >> no. it was definitely not required. but did i think that neuropsychologists were apply
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race-norming in this nfl concussion settlement? no. >> reporter: seeger laying the blame not at the nfl, but instead, squarely at the feet of neuropsychologists. the clinicians who evaluate players according to the settlement. so in your opinion, you think it's the neuropsychologists who did it independently? >> what we attempted to do in the settlement is replicate what goes on in a doctor's office. we didn't tell neuropsychologists what tests to apply. we expected them to use under judgment as a medical profession. in this case, i expected them to apply the same standards to the same players. >> reporter: but an abc news investigation earlier this year found several neuropsychologists who say they felt pressured to apply race norms by the nfl. and that when they didn't use them, the nfl would appeal, resulting in players' claims being denied. in emails we uncovered between multiple clinicians, one said if they didn't use the race norms, inquiries levied at them. another questioning their
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required reliance on using norms that, bottom line, do discriminate against black players. it seems to me like you're saying you didn't know that was happening. >> no, i'm not saying it. we sensed that something was happening on this, but we saw it case-by-case. >> okay. >> did not have the impression it was going on systemically. there's no evidence of that at this point, but it happened more than a few times. >> you're saying you don't know why a doctor, a neuropsychologist, would ever think that this was required? >> i don't know why they would even think it's appropriate. they're either hiding behind their lack of courage, or they're just plain wrong. >> reporter: seeg eliminate r says he has an ongoing investigation to check claims that have already been denied. though the nfl says there is no merit to any claim of discrimination, they say the new testing techniques they're developing will be applied to new and old cases where players may have qualified for an award if not for race-norming. have you ever thought with what's going on, considered stepping aside or saying, i don't want to take this role?
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>> no. i didn't sit in this chair and tell you i was perfect. look. i fight hard for these folks, and i am not going to be the guy who tries to cover up something. but what i can do if a mistake is made, i can come on abc with you and tell folks what i'm doing. some people were hurt by this, but i'll get it fixed. some people were offended by this, for that i'm sorry. but take some solace in the fact that we're going to make some changes here. >> reporter: change can't come soon enough for the leonards. >> i gave all that i could. not only for the nfl, but for my family. but yet now i'm sitting here with my wife and my two kids, and i feel like the organization that i gave everything for is not really giving me anything. >> i constantly worry about, will he be here to help me raise our boys? will he be here to see our grandkids one day?
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for me as a black woman, raising two black boys, my biggest fear is them not being raised by their dad. >> our thanks to ryan. and a note, there is no timeline on when chris seeger and the nfl will reach a deal. n, lawmakers are calling for the release of data of how payouts break down along racial lines, which seeger now says he supports. odors get trapped in your home's fabrics and resurface over time. febreze fabric refresher eliminates odors. its water-based formula safely penetrates fabrics where odors hide. spray it on your rugs, your curtains, your furniture, all over your home to make it part of your tidying up routine. febreze fabric refresher, for an all-over freshness you'll love. my plaque psoriasis... ...the itching ...the burning. the stinging. my skin was no longer mine.
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