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🏈Race-norming in the NFL

June 13, 2021
SOURCE: MATT ROURKE/AP
SOURCE: MATT ROURKE/AP

QUOTE OF THE DAY

I’ll believe it when I see it.

— Former NFL running back Ken Jenkins, on the NFL's recent promise to stop race-norming. We’re with him.

🧠 What is race-norming?

SOURCE: SCOTT BOEHM/AP

Race-norming is a pervasive practice mainly used in the medical field. In essence, it assumes that the baseline cognitive function of a Black person is lesser than that of a white person.

  • It was in the 1990s that race-norming practices began to supposedly help diagnose dementia and determine appropriate treatment for those suffering from the syndrome.
  • It’s unclear whether the NFL began using the practices prior to their 2015 concussion settlement (more on that below), but they did put together a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee in 1994.

The league initially claimed that race-norming was used at the discretion of clinicians making the diagnoses, but it has since been discovered that physicians felt pressured into using the practice.

So why are we talking about race-norming now? Because the NFL brought it up a couple of weeks ago and then swiftly brushed it aside with other football news. And while it’s been floating around the media a bit lately, it’s not being talked about nearly enough for our liking.

💸 The settlement

SOURCE: SANDRO SCHUH/UNSPLASH

Thousands of former players sued the NFL in 2011, accusing the league of hiding what they knew about repeated head trauma and its effects, including dementia, post-concussion syndrome and a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). 

  • The league settled for $1 billion and began awarding the settlement money to former players who suffered brain injuries while playing in the NFL. 

To determine who was awarded settlement money, the league assessed players’ dementia and brain injury claims to determine if their brain degeneration was directly caused by playing football in the NFL.

  • But because of race-norming, Black players had to show a larger cognitive decline than their white peers to qualify for settlement money. WTF?

🔨 The latest lawsuit

SOURCE: USA TODAY SPORTS

Unsurprisingly, many players were refused money from the settlement over the past decade, including retired Black players Kevin Henry, an eight-season defensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Najeh Davenport, an eight-season running back (RB) for the Steelers, the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts.

  • They each played very different positions, Henry in the 1990s and Davenport in the 2000s, but both suffered repeated traumatic brain injuries during their time in the league.

The two men were so sure the NFL had denied their claims because of race-norming that they filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2020 with judge Anita B. Brody, who has overseen the settlement since 2011.

The mediation is ongoing, but in the meantime, former Washington RB Ken Jenkins started a petition to demand equal treatment for Black players in the NFL and, a few weeks ago, he delivered 50,000 signatures to Judge Brody.

  • In response to those 50,000 signatures, the NFL said, “There is no merit to the claim of discrimination.” Yeah, we didn’t buy it either.

📝 The NFL’s statement

SOURCE: KIRBY LEE/USA TODAY SPORTS

You might want to sit down for this one. After everything that’s happened, last week, the NFL...wait for it...changed their tune and admitted to race-norming. Contrary to most of their actions for the past however many decades, the NFL released a statement indicating they “are committed to eliminating race-based norms in the program.”

  • Also according to the statement, a newly formed panel of neuropsychologists, including two female and three Black doctors, are working on a new testing program proposal to replace the current race-norming practices.

➡️ The next steps

SOURCE: DERIK HAMILTON/AP

Once the new testing system is ready, the NFL will use it going forward and will also reopen claims they previously denied based on racial bias. It’s the least they can do, but it’s especially important with dementia claims.

  • Out of the over 2,000 players who claimed their dementia diagnoses were a direct result of their time in the NFL, less than 600 were awarded compensation from the original settlement.

In the nearly two weeks since making the announcement, the NFL hasn’t addressed the matter further and no dates or deadlines were included in the statement. The next steps, though proposed, remain vague and unclear.

💭 The GIST’s take

SOURCE: SARAH ANDERSON

We hope the new system will provide some vindication for players who’ve been denied compensation they’re rightfully entitled to. And more than that, all of the affected players and their families and caretakers deserve an official apology — at the very least — from the NFL. 

  • After denying for so long that they were discriminatory and frankly blatantly racist towards players who sacrificed their bodies and brains for the league, it's a cop out to only acknowledge it now that they’ve decided to stop the practice. Hold the applause.
  • We’re happy that this is the end of the race-norming practice in the NFL, but it can’t be the end of the conversation. To learn more, listen to this episode of our podcast, The GIST of It.

Euros Preview

June 11, 2021
SOURCE: ILNAPOLISTA.IT
SOURCE: ILNAPOLISTA.IT

QUOTE OF THE DAY

There are two possibilities from this tournament. Either I shall be kissed all over my bald head or I will have tomatoes thrown at it.

—Arrigo Sacchi, coach of the 1996 Italian national team, on the occupational hazards of playing in the Euros. His team lost in the group stage that year, so we’ll let you imagine which outcome he faced…

⚽️ The set-up

SOURCE: UEFA

The UEFA European Football Championship, a mouthful better known as the Euros, brings together Europe’s top men’s national soccer teams once every four years to duke it out for continental glory (and a lot of money, naturally).

  • After two years of qualification rounds, Europe’s 55 eligible teams are whittled down to 24 nations that move on to month-long Euros, which begins today.

The tournament consists of two stages: First, the three-game round robin group stage, which splits the 24 teams into six groups (more on them in a bit). The top two teams from each, along with the next four best teams overall, based on points during the round robin — three for a win, one for a draw — advance to the knockout stage.

  • The knockout stage includes the round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals and final that’s set for July 11th.
  • While most Euros are hosted in one or two countries, this year’s tournament is pan-European, with 11 countries playing host during the group stage and first two knockout rounds before London takes over for the semis and final. Jolly good.

Second only to the FIFA World Cup, the Euros are an international BFD, even for us North Americans. So if you don’t have a nation to cheer for yet, here’s “the gist” on every group to help you pick.

🇹🇷🇮🇹🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿🇨🇭 Group A - Turkey, Italy, Wales, Switzerland

SOURCE: EPA

The favorite: Italy. Riding a 27-game unbeaten streak, the Azzurri, as they’re known, are playing all three of their group stage matches in front of a home crowd in Rome. The world-ranked No. 7 team won’t have an easy run, but with one of the tournament’s best defenses, they have what it takes to go far.

The dark horse: Turkey could give Italy a run for their money, but to be fair, any of the three in the group could. We’ll get a good sense of things right off the bat though, when Italy and Turkey kick off the whole tournament today at 3 p.m. ET. We’re calling it: the winner of today’s match will win the group.

Who to watch: Gareth Bale, Wales. He’s the best thing to come out of the country since singer Tom Jones, but this tournament will show if the 31-year-old superstar still has it. If he sets the right tone, the rest of his team should follow, and they could surprise us all.

🇩🇰🇫🇮🇧🇪🇷🇺 Group B - Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Russia

SOURCE: SOURCE: DIRK WAEM/PA WIRE

The favorite: Belgium. They’re calling this the golden generation of Belgian soccer. The roster is strong, experienced, and like Daphne Bridgerton and the Duke of Hastings, has undeniable chemistry. This tourney is the moment of truth for stars like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne to finally seal the deal.

The dark horse: Denmark. They may not have a ton of starpower, but their midfield is reliable, their defense is solid, and their goalie Kasper Schmeichel (whose father Peter, also a goaltender, led Denmark to their 1992 Euro win) is one of the top in the tournament.

Who to watch: As previously mentioned, Lukaku, Belgium. An early prediction for “Player of the Tournament,” Lukaku is Belgium’s all-time highest goal-scorer and is only expected to add to his record and grow his lead, especially if Belgium can make it all the way.

🇳🇱🇺🇦🇦🇹🇲🇰 Group C - Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria, North Macedonia

SOURCE: JOEY YU/EPA-EFE

The favorite: Netherlands. This shouldn’t be too hard for them. Though the Dutch team missed the last Euros, they have a light schedule, a solid squad and a new-but-knowledgeable coach in Frank de Boer this time. They’ll also play all of their group stage matches at home, which helps.

The dark horse: Though we heavily debated Ukraine, we’re going with Austria, final answer. They’ve played in two Euros before but never made it past the group stage. We think third time’s a charm for the world’s 23rd ranked team. Time to make the von Trapp family proud.

Who to watch: Memphis Depay, Netherlands. Aside from having a burgeoning music career, he’s also a pretty great soccer player. He’ll likely be the main Dutch goal scorer during the Euros, and given the relatively easy matchups he’ll be facing, could be a top contender for the Golden Boot (awarded to the tournament’s highest goal scorer).

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿🇭🇷🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇨🇿 Group D - England, Croatia, Scotland, Czech Republic

SOURCE: PAUL ELLIS/AP

The favorite: England. The team that consistently underperforms has one of its strongest rosters in decades, and they have a lot to prove. They’ll face their longtime rivals Scotland and the team who ousted them from the last FIFA World Cup, Croatia, in the group stage; the quest for revenge should help boost their gameplay.

The dark horse: Croatia. They surprised many as the runners-up in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and though they’ve lost a few big names since then, they’re still scrappy contenders. The Czech team will be their biggest challenge, though.

Who to watch: Harry Kane, England. He’s the biggest name in English soccer these days, and as the captain, all eyes will be on him to lead The Three Lions (Lannister vibes, anyone?) to their first national championship since the 1966 World Cup, and their first ever Euros win.

🇪🇸🇸🇪🇵🇱🇸🇰 Group E - Spain, Sweden, Poland, Slovakia

SOURCE: MANU FERNANDEZ/AP

The favorite: Spain. A perennial favorite who won back-to-back Euros in 2008 and 2012. And though the roster has changed from that experienced squad to a fresher, younger group of top talent, high expectations remain. The only problem? Two players, including captain Sergio Busquets, just tested positive for COVID-19.

The dark horse: Poland, but we’re going out on a limb here. Sweden might be everyone’s second favorite Group E team, but Poland has one of the all-time best goal scorers in their arsenal: captain Robert Lewandowski. He’s the reigning UEFA Men’s Player of the Year, and we think his leadership is powerful enough to get Poland through to the round of 16.

Who to watch: Alexander Isak, Sweden. With Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic (pronounced ee-brah-HEE-moh-vich) out of the Euros, Isak is the next big thing. He scored 17 goals in 34 games for his Spanish league team Real Sociedad, and he’s the youngest-ever goal scorer for his national team.

🇭🇺🇵🇹🇫🇷🇩🇪 Group F - Hungary, Portugal, France, Germany

SOURCE: ARMANDO FRANCA/AP

The favorite: Portugal. The reigning champs are looking for a second Euros title, and with top talent like Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and up-and-comer Nuno Mendes, they have most of the tools on hand to repeat their 2016 success.

The dark horse: Not Hungary. In this “Group of Death,” three teams are powerhouses in international soccer, with Germany co-leading alongside Spain for most Euros titles (three), and France, the most recent FIFA World Cup winners. Sorry, Hungary.

Who to watch: Kylian Mbappé (pronounced mm-BAP-eh), France. At the age of 19 (and during his first senior international tournament with France, no less), he became the second-youngest goal scorer in a FIFA World Cup final, and is often compared to the GOAT Pelé. Now 22, he’s quick, controlled, experienced, and ready to win again.

👀 How to watch

SOURCE: UEFA

Buckle up, we’re in for a heck of a month. The group stage starts today and continues until June 23rd, then two rest days before the knockout stage begins. Check out the full schedule here, download the UEFA EURO 2020 app to keep up-to-date and watch all the games live on TSN in Canada and ESPN in the U.S. Olé!

🏀🏒

NBA and NHL Playoffs Continue to Bring the Action

June 10, 2021
Source: NHL on NBC/Twitter
Source: NHL on NBC/Twitter

 🏀NBA: The conference semifinals are heating up. In last night’s only game, the Phoenix Suns doubled their lead over the Denver Nuggets with a 123–98 win in Game 2. Tonight, two series continue: the Milwaukee Bucks vs. the Brooklyn Nets (who lead 2-0, despite still not having James Harden) and the LA Clippers vs. Utah Jazz (who lead 1-0).

🏒NHL: The Montreal Canadiens are still waiting to find out who they'll face in the semifinals. The Habs will play the winner of the Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche series, which Vegas is leading 3-2. Game 6 is tonight, and if the Avs can tie it up, then Game 7 is Saturday. Please let it happen, hockey gods.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, meanwhile, are preparing for the New York Saints Islanders, after the Isles beat the Boston Bruins 6–2 last night. That series will likely start this weekend. Bring it on. 

🥎Winner Takes it All Today at Women's College World Series

June 10, 2021
Source: Oklahoma Softball/Twitter
Source: Oklahoma Softball/Twitter

How they got here: Both Florida State and Oklahoma made history as just the fourth and fifth teams in WCWS history to advance to the champ series after losing the first game of the tourney. Behind a stellar offensive and defensive night from freshman Kalei Harding, Florida State claimed Tuesday’s Game 1 with an 8–4 win.

  • But Oklahoma evened things up with a 6–2 win yesterday, with who else but Player of the Year Jocelyn Alo hitting a record-breaking two-run homer in the sixth inning. Clutch.

The big picture: As cliché as it sounds, we’re all winners no matter who hoists the trophy tonight. This year’s WCWS broke rating records, James Madison University (JMU: a mid-major) captured our hearts with a Cinderella run to the semifinals and a thriving pro softball league keeps new stars shining. Just further proof that if you build it, they will come

🎾All Four Grand Slam Finalists Share Something in Common

June 10, 2021
Source: Roland Garros/Twitter
Source: Roland Garros/Twitter

Women’s singles: Don’t recognize any of the semifinalists in the women’s draw? No sweat, they’re all new here. For only the second time in tennis’ Open Era, all four women are Grand Slam first-timers, while the highest world-ranked player remaining is No. 18 Maria Sakkari, who beat reigning champ Iga Świątek (pronounced shvee-AH-tek) in the quarters.

  • Sakkari will play No. 33 Barbora Krejčíková (pronounced crey-CHEE-koh-va), who knocked out 17-year-old Coco Gauff yesterday.
  • Meanwhile, No. 32 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (pronounced pav-loo-CHEN-koh-va) will take on No. 85 Tamara Zidansek (pronounced zi-DAN-sheck) in today’s semis ahead of Saturday’s final. 

Men’s singles: And on the total flipside, the King of Clay Rafael Nadal is making his record-extending 14th appearance in the French Open semis, where he’ll play world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a rematch of last year’s final. 

  • For the other semi, it’ll be No. 6 Alexander Zverev (pronounced SVAIR-ev) and No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas (pronounced see-see-PASS) battling it out before Sunday’s final. Check out the full schedule (including doubles action), here