Football, TV star Alex Karras latest to sue NFL over head injuries
Alex Karras and his wife, Susan Clark, played adoptive parents in the 1980s TV show "Webster."
April 13th, 2012
01:50 PM ET

Football, TV star Alex Karras latest to sue NFL over head injuries

Alex Karras, the former Detroit Lions standout who starred in the 1980s sitcom “Webster” - and whose wife says is now suffering from dementia - has joined hundreds of ex-NFL players suing the league over concussion-related injuries.

Karras, who also played the horse-punching Mongo in the 1974 movie “Blazing Saddles," is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Philadelphia on behalf of him and 69 other former NFL players.

The suit the 12th concussion-related complaint filed against the NFL by the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia, now representing about 700 former NFL players alleges that the league didn’t do enough to warn players that they risked permanent brain damage if they played too soon after a concussion, and that it concealed evidence about the risks for decades.

The suits claim that plaintiffs suffer from neurological problems after sustaining traumatic impacts to the head.

Karras, 76, of California, “sustained repetitive traumatic impacts to his head and/or concussions on multiple occasions” during his NFL career, and “suffers from various neurological conditions and symptoms related to the multiple head traumas,” the latest lawsuit says.

“Alex suffers from dementia but still enjoys many things, including watching football,” his wife and “Webster” co-star Susan Clark said in a news release Thursday. “But dementia prevents him from doing everyday activities such as driving, cooking, sports fishing, reading books and going to big events or traveling.

“His constant complaint is dizziness the result of multiple concussions. What Alex wants is for the game of football to be made safer and allow players and their families to enjoy a healthier, happier retirement.”

Karras entered the league in 1958 from the University of Iowa. A four-time Pro Bowl selection, he was a defensive lineman 12 seasons for the Lions, ending his career after the 1970 season.

The players are seeking financial compensation, punitive damages and payment for medical monitoring and treatment, according to Locks Law Firm founding partner Gene Locks. Eventually, he hopes the suits will prompt the NFL to pay for monitoring and treatment for all former NFL players, regardless of whether they’re part of lawsuits.

“(The NFL) had knowledge they didn’t share with the players and didn’t add the knowledge to the playing rules to protect players” from head injuries, Locks said by phone Friday. “What we want is for the league to stand up and be counted, and examine everyone and provide medical benefits to everyone.”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Friday that “any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit.”

“It stands in contrast to the league's actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions,” Aiello wrote in an e-mail Friday.

“The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so,” he wrote.

In recent years, the NFL has attempted to strengthen rules that govern player conduct on the field, adding sideline medical staff unaffiliated with the teams in an effort to more independently evaluate injured players.

In 2005, the league banned the practice of tackling a player by using his shoulder pads, a move commonly referred to as a "horse-collar" tackle, after concluding it commonly resulted in injury.

It also recently strengthened a 1979 rule that prohibits players from using their helmets to butt, or "spear" players during a tackle a rule that critics had often complained lacked official enforcement. Players such as Pittsburgh Steelers' linebacker James Harrison have since faced hefty and repeated fines for helmet-first tackles.

Still, others have called for added protections following a series of high-profile incidents involving former players' health.

In May, scientists announced that an autopsy of the brain of former Chicago Bears safety David Duerson, 50, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, showed evidence of "moderately advanced" chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

CTE is a degenerative, dementia-like brain disease linked to repeated brain trauma. The disease has been found in the brains of 14 of 15 former NFL players, including Duerson, studied at the Boston University School of Medicine Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy as of last May. Their cases share a common thread repeated concussions, sub-concussive blows to the head, or both.

A brain with CTE is riddled with dense clumps of a protein called tau. Under a microscope, tau appears as brown tangles that look similar to dementia. But the cases of CTE have shown this progressive, dementia-like array in players well in advance of a typical dementia diagnosis, which typically occurs when people are in their 70s or 80s.

“What (the NFL) has done is better than 30 years ago, but still not what it should be,” Locks said.

The Chart: Information about concussions

– CNN’s Jason Hanna, David Ariosto, Sarah Hoye, Rachel Wells, Ashley Hayes, Michael Martinez and Thom Patterson contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Football • Health • Lawsuit • Pro football • Sports
soundoff (306 Responses)
  1. Larry

    All of you posting negative comments, get a clue. Sure, it's Alex Karras's choice to play the game. But everybody knows that the NFL's goal was to keep players on the field no matter how bad the injury or risk of permanent damage. Anyone who questioned it risked getting dropped from the team. And of course, anybody can tell that putting someone with a concussion back into a contact support is a dangerous thing.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • S

      Anyone who doesn't think that there is risk playing football in the first place should get the clue...and anyone who then decides to take that risk, then sue later, is asinine. Same with boxing. Same with wrestling. Same with any contact sport. Ridiculous!

      April 13, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim

      What would you suggest, a week in the Bahamas between games?

      April 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • The man - I love everyone

      I love having concussions. They are great.

      April 13, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mom has that...

      Hind sight is always 20/20. If I had not run track in the shoes I did in highschool, my knees would not have to be replaced... I wonder if I can sue that tennis shoe maker? The truth is, back when he was playing, no one knew what a concussion was, or the effects. But somehow it is something that we think they all should have been aware of done something about.
      What irks me is that they are saying it caused his dementia... that is insulting to someone like myself taking care of a 75 yr old mother who never played football or had a concussion.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. M.C.W.

    This is unfortunate to see this many ignorant comments. Sounds to me like fans today have the impression that football players back in the 70's were set for life after football because of their salaries, and that they were protected by the league against going back in after concussions. "Hold up 2 fingers, ok coach he's good to go!"

    Reality check, players in the 70's did NOT know the effects of concussions, they were also bound to their team and their coach based on their contract. If the coach told them to go in, they went in. Oh yea lets not forget, players before free agency were making under 30,000/year.

    What the NFL should do, is give more back to those players who now cannot work and cannot support their families because of dementia and other effects from concussions and hits. It's not so much that the players are saying it's the NFL's fault, it's more that they are asking for help from the game they made popular. Current players and fans are ignorant of the past and naive to think it's always been like it is today. Those players in the 70's made the game what it is today, please show a little respect for guys trying to get back what is rightfully their from the NFL.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • T

      The question isn't about money...or what they made in the 70's. The risk was always there. Since the inception of football. Don't want to risk injury, don't play. Simple as that.

      April 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marco

      Well stated!

      April 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • ouch

      Amen. Old school football players were put back in after having their bell rung if they could stand and grunt. They at least deserve to have all their medical expenses covered and have their rent and food paid in their golden years. I think the NFL should require coach (?) Williams to sit through these trials and have to talk to the football widows.

      April 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Satch

      The best comment here.

      And to the NFL's lawyer, Greg Aiello I say to you; "You damn well know back then, and even today, that corporations knowingly lie and keeps secret information in the interest of profits. Polluton-related, you name it, there hands are dirty, most every one of them. A wink to the Dr., a little nod and throw him back in the game. Hello, North Dallas 40 showed this back in the 70's!"

      99% of any publicly traded company = Lying, cheating and stealing.

      April 13, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • JerseyJeff

      Average NFL pay in 1970 was $26,000. Hardly rich.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      Given that the average player was still making something like 10 times the average salary of the average working stiff, I don't think the salary argument is compelling. We're talking people who played in the 60s here – early 60s at that given current age of 75 (minus 50 years = 1962 the person was 25 – prime player age).

      No one has yet given any good reason why these men should not be responsible for the choice they made to PLAY FOOTBALL, a sport they all knew was brutally physical and likely to cause physical injuries, many of which they would "pay for" when they were older. Can anyone say with a straight face that Broadway Joe Namath did not acknowledge over and over that he was going to be paying for the vicious hits he took for the rest of his life? Puh-lease!

      The other problem here is that many 75 year old who have never had a concussion and who have never played a single down of football people develop dementia. How are these players going to conclusively show that their dementia is the actual result of injury received while playing football? It seems very attenuated. Maybe if someone were 40 and suffering these symptoms immediately upon leaving the league, but 50 years later it really could be the result of old age.

      April 14, 2012 at 5:33 am | Report abuse |
  3. spence

    Can players sue Karras for giving THEM concussions then?

    April 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. lwingate

    This is about as stupid as sueing the tobacco company because you decided to smoke and kill yourself. Everyone is sue happy. These players make a fortune. What did they think would happen. Even an idiot know that getting hit in the head is not a good thing.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • M.C.W.

      Usually we use question marks at the end of questions. Another ignorant comment, do some research.

      April 13, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • V

      Research into what? That being hit in the head repeatedly can cause concussions and permanent brain damage? Gee, what a shock.
      Research how many people go into a sport KNOWING there may be grievious injury that can cause problems later in life?
      Compensating them for a choice THEY made?
      How long has it been since you last saw reality?

      April 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • JerseyJeff

      most players don't make a fortune, you are confusing the 'stars' with regular players. In 2012, the league minimum is $325,000 and the majority will never make $1 million a year and an NFL career is usually around 2-8 years.

      The NFL made hundreds of millions to billions of dollars on the backs of these guys hitting as hard as they can for them but when they retire or are forced to retire due to injury, there is no medical plan to cover the damages they got playing for them.

      These guys leave the NFL 3/4 crippled and spent their high school and college years training for the NFL. Where do they go work?

      Why shouldn't the NFL, who prospers on the hard hitting players, not take care of their own medically after their career is ended?

      April 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JD

    No one deserves to retroactively be given more compensation for work they did in the past. They agreed to their pay at the time and should stick to it. Otherwise we should find the first McDonalds' burger flippers and try to give them a few billion dollars too.

    The only reason for compensation is commission of a crime. The only potential crime would be KNOWING that there was more concussion risk than was revealed. Proving that there was willful withholding of important safety information is going to be difficult, and it should be.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. larry5

    What about players from the old American Football League? Are they included, too.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. jj

    The fact that he played "Mongo" in "Blazing Saddles" proves there's something wrong with his head!

    April 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. ladyfonseca

    First off, its not like the NFL forced a draft like the military does, they chose to play plain and simple. And if the players did not know the effects and are not liable for their own decisions, then why is the NFL liable when they didn't know the effects either since the results of these studies have only recently come out?

    April 13, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. lolarites

    How do they know what Alex wants, he's demented. How to they know his dementia is not caused by genetic reasons or other disease processes like Alzheimer's? I feel sorry for Susan Clark, she has to live with him.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. John

    Be careful boys. When liability law suits get out of hand, products disappear. Want football to disappear? Sue them into oblivion. If anyone that played or presently plays in the NFL wasn't fully aware of the risks going in, their brain was already damaged beyond repair. Stay away if you aren't willing to take personal responsibility for the risks you CHOSE to take. There are other, less physically damaging career paths and that college education many of you got for free could have been put to use.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • U

      EXACTLY!
      Bravo!

      April 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. MNTaxpayer

    I feel bad for Alex Karras, or anyine ellse with dementia. But, first of all if he has dementia I doubt it is he personaly that is filing suit. So who is behind it, wife, family, some other group? Is it possoible that attourneys approached the family and suggested a suit? Who knows, but I doubt it was his idea. Secondly he is 76, many people that age from all walks of life have dementia. Maybe he deserves compensation, I don't know

    April 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. angel611

    He caused a lot of intentional injuries to other players, and now Karris wants money for banging his head while hurting other players?
    LMAO
    Welcome to the world of the wealthy, where nothing is out of bounds.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • W

      Right on.
      What's that sayiong? You play, you pay?
      It shouldn't be the NFL who pays for the choices of their players..they are paid a salary in the first place....and although I feel sorry for Alex and Susan, I don't feel that the NFL should pay for it.

      April 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. FactChecker

    The sin is in hiding what they knew from the players. If there were dangers that they knew of and didn't tell their employees, they are at fault as any employer would be.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • John

      You gotta be kidding. Hid the fact that hitting your head HARD, multiple times, with the full intent of inflicting pain on others just migh cause damage to you as well. Go out and walk in traffic on the interstate bud. I won't tell you that you MIGHT get hit by a car, REALLY hard, and it MIGHT result in your untimely death. I won't tell you, because I want to sell tickets and make big bucks from all the people that enjoy watching that kind of stuff. If you're lucky, you'll live through it and can sue me because I didn't tell you about the potential consequences.

      April 13, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bull Dung

    Really!?!?!? Couldn't cash in big on "Webster" Alex? All these athletes knew what they were getting into when they started playing these sports. Yes, I feel the NFL needs to pony up more money for retirement pensions and healthcare. Especially, those pioneers who didn't have the luxury of making millions but made it possible for today's players to be able to. What's next? Boxers sueing the boxing organizations for their punch-drunkenness due to the fact they didn't force boxers to use 10lb cotton balls on their hands instead of the 10oz gloves?

    April 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Mom has that...

    My mother is 75... never ever played football, and has dementia, and constantly complains of being dizzy. I would like her name added to this lawsuit.
    Seriously, I hope people who are caring for those with dementia, will stand up against this abuse. Dementia happens to those who never had a concussion and never played a physical sport... yet it is lawsuits like this that diminish the real diesease. I would be happy to have his wife join others in educating and not dummying up america on this issue.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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