On rare occasions, it’s possible to be both the culprit and the victim. And in the case of Clinton Portis and the other 14 players who allegedly defrauded the NFL of millions, that seems to be it.
Portis is facing federal prison time after pleading guilty for his part in defrauding the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan — a health care system created in 2006 to help retired players cover their medical expenses. Portis said that he “knowingly and voluntarily joined the conspiracy” to commit the fraud and has promised to pay back roughly $100,000 he received.
The scheme included fabricated claims and false documents that led to kickbacks. In total, the players were able to scam nearly $4 million from the fund. To put that into perspective, Portis made $43.1 million during his career. However, that was before he lost a lot of that to dirty money managers. In all, Portis, Tamarick Vanover, Robert McCune, Joe Horn, Correll Buckhalter, Carlos Rogers, James Butler, Etric Pruitt, Ceandris Brown, John Eubanks, Antwan Odom, Darrell Reid, Anthony Montgomery, Fredrick Bennett, and Reche Caldwell have all pleaded guilty in taking part in the scheme.
Everything about Black football players defrauding a health care fund named after the league’s first Black leader of the player’s union feels wrong — and it is.
But, it’s not the worst sin that’s been committed here.
In February, former players Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport filed a lawsuit accusing the league of race norming to deny them compensation for the concussions they suffered when playing, given that the league promised to pay close to $1 billion to players with brain trauma in 2013, which was upheld in 2016 by the Supreme Court after the league tried to challenge it.
Race norming is defined as: “the process of statistically adjusting the scores of minority job applicants on job-qualification tests by rating each test-taker’s score against the results of others in his or her racial or ethnic group.”
Vox labeled the practice as part of the long legacy of medical racism, and Scientific American Magazine called it the “afterlife of slavery.”
Here’s a section of Henry and Davenport’s lawsuit:
If a Black former player and a white former player receive the exact same scores on a battery of tests designed to measure their current cognitive functioning, the Black player is automatically assumed to have suffered less impairment, and he is, therefore, less likely to qualify for compensation.
In May, former running back Ken Jenkins and his wife delivered 50,000 petitions demanding equal treatment for Black players to Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody alleging that the league’s payouts showed bias, based on race norming.
By June, the league announced that it would end race norming in its concussion settlement with players.
“We are committed to eliminating race-based norms in the program and more broadly in the neuropsychological community,” the NFL said in a statement.
“I am sorry for the pain this episode has caused Black former players and their families. Ultimately, this settlement only works if former players believe in it, and my goal is to regain their trust and ensure the NFL is fully held to account,” said attorney Chris Seeger.
Beyond the typical racist acts that Black players have endured over the years, what has always been consistent is that the league has proven that their bodies and minds aren’t equally valued. From the plight of the Black quarterback to the low number of Black head coaches and coordinators, and to CTE cases in which race norming was used to discriminate against the men who sacrificed their brains, arms, legs, and knees for the betterment of the league, the NFL always seems to find a way to undercut its Black players.
It’s undeniable that Clinton Portis and those 14 other men broke the law. But, it’s also easy to see why they did it. They wanted retribution from a league that has historically stolen from men like them. And while their acts were illegal, it doesn’t mean that they were wrong. Because if anyone should be facing potential time in prison, it should be the suits that run the NFL.