Doctors call NFL concussion settlement ‘junk science’

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(NewsNation Now) — In 2017, the settlement companies the NFL hired to administer its concussion settlement contracted Dr. Randolph Evans, a board-certified neurologist in Houston, to examine former NFL players and determine if they have cognitive impairment.

“I examined 395 retired players in about a one-year period, and what I found was that approximately about 30% had cognitive impairment,” Evans said. “Based upon the standards of the settlement, I felt they met the criteria for cognitive impairment and should have received compensation.”

But instead, Evans said when he turned in his claims, a very high percentage of them were appealed by a law firm hired by the NFL. 

“For example, if somebody is driving, they would say that somebody could not have a cognitive impairment, which is factually inaccurate. To give you an example, about one-third of people with Alzheimer’s disease drive,” Evans said. “So the lawyers, who are not doctors, are making false claims about medical issues.”

Then, they terminated his contract. 

“They just told me that I was terminated and I asked him why. And there was no reason given,” Evans said.

We asked BrownGreer, the firm managing the settlement, why they terminated Evans from the program. In response Tuesday, they said, “BrownGreer terminated Evans’ MAF physician contract because his diagnoses did not comply with the settlement’s injury definitions.”

But in an appeal filed by the NFL, a footnote mentions Evans and says they terminated him based on, “his questionable methodologies, disregard for program rules, and refusal to cooperate or even discuss things with the claims administrator.”

Evans disputes this statement, saying he followed the program rules which changed during the year he was involved.

“They changed the goalposts, if you will, during the one-year period. I had numerous discussions with the program administrators because the rules were confusing,” Evans said. “They did numerous audits of the clients that I saw, in terms of methodologies. I explained why the methodologies were confusing because this is not something that we use in clinical practice, and we were allowed to use our clinical judgment.”

Alex Powers is a neurosurgeon at Wake Forest School of Medicine and has been focused on mild traumatic brain injury in football since 2009.

Powers, like Evans, was hired to evaluate former players for the NFL concussion settlement. Powers says he did his work objectively and the process worked, and the first player he saw, “clearly had issues” so he submitted the paperwork to the NFL.

Afterward, he said he got an email back asking for more documentation, and then another similar request, which he said was “a little odd.” Then, an attorney reached out to him to let him know the claim was denied.

“I was trying to apply these sets of rules to evaluate these players to the best of my ability… I was just trying to be as objective as possible,” Powers said. “You have an independent person saying, yes, they qualify for that based on your rules. I was then shocked to find that they wouldn’t accept it.”

Powers said it happened again and again and again, as the four patients he saw received the same answer: no, you do not qualify for the settlement money.

“When the fourth one came back negative or came back with saying that they don’t qualify for that particular level of impairment, and they wouldn’t talk to me about it, I was like, ‘well… my job here is done, but you obviously don’t want my opinion,’” Powers said.

Powers said he terminated his own contract with the NFL settlement.

In April, another doctor testing former players complained to BrownGreer that he felt there is an effort to find ways to deny claims, writing, “I understand the reviewer’s job is to find fault with the clinical reports.”

BrownGreer said it made a concerted effort to investigate his criticism but ultimately views it as his personal belief.

Further, BrownGreer stated it has never pressured a program physician, “to find a retired NFL football player either to have, or not to have, a qualifying diagnosis under the terms of the settlement agreement.” 

Jason Luckasevic, an attorney who filed the first lawsuits against the NFL in 2011, brought it to the attention of Chris Seeger, who represents the players in the settlement. 

“I had a conversation with one of his people, they said, ‘well, you know, he’s very player-friendly,’ I said, ‘no, I don’t know that I’ve never heard of the guy. This is my first experience with him,’”  Luckasevic said. “So what is that supposed to mean? He’s player-friendly. Are you looking for people that aren’t player friendly?”

A spokesperson for Seeger, in response to our questions, said class counsel will not get into the details of this, “unfounded accusation.”

In 2017, Seeger promoted this settlement and the testing protocols as state-of-the-art, saying: “We had the absolute best neurologists and neuropsychologists put this together, the absolute best.”

Evans and Powers are not alone. NewsNation has spoken with four other doctors who feel they were terminated because they approved too many players for compensation. They said the non-disclosure agreements they signed prevent them from speaking about it.

Dr. Robert Stern, a prominent Boston University psychologist and researcher, wrote a 60-page affidavit slamming the settlement for a number of reasons, including that it excludes CTE, that the test battery is, “not appropriate for evaluating whether retired professional football players have neurodegenerative diseases” and that “the algorithm used to translate test performance into compensable Neurocognitive Impairment categories is arbitrary, nonstandard, and not supported by any scientific literature.”

Ultimately, Stern said it will, “deprive persons with documented cognitive deficits of compensation.” 

“I think if a knowledgeable neurologist, neuropsychologist, designed evaluations to figure out who has cognitive impairment are related to repetitive concussions, this evaluation would not be the way to do it,” Evans said.

Powers says while the original documents are “very clear” about what makes a player qualify, “it was very clear that that is not in fact what happened.” 

“The problem is, neurologists and neuro-psychologist are being asked to administer a legal settlement to determine cognitive impairment,” Evans said.

In the seven years since the NFL concussion settlement has been established, the NFL reports 20,558 registered class members, just over 3,200 claim packages received and less than 1,300 players have been paid.

“I don’t think it’s been fair to the players. I’ve had many players who I feel have cognitive impairment where the claims have been denied and they still haven’t been paid,” Evans said. 

“As a neurologist has been doing this for 40 years, and I think speaking on behalf of many of my colleagues in neurology and neuro-psychology, this settlement is based upon junk science,” Evans said.

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