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. Brian Ritchey

    I went out for track and always thought "football" was a joke. The game consists of fat men falling down and laying on top of each other while spectators swill beer. Time Magazine once posed the question: "Is football a gay sport?"

    April 13, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      You obviously know nothing about the game Brian. Stick with what you know – running and badminton.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • JerseyJeff

      No, football isn't but I think most people think track is.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      You obviously know nothing about the game Brian. Stick with what you know – running and badminton.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Obviously spoken by someone who has never played football....football is a brutal sport played by real men...

      April 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Other Bob

      Is football a gay sport? No. But we had nick name for guys that came out for football and weren't man enough to gut it out....track stars.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pepe Santos

      We football players alwasy thought you track girls were gay, in your cute little shorts, always running away.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • ron

      You have a problem with "Gay" football Brian? Common man.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yo Brian Ritchey

      ...........your grasp of the game of football is astonishing. Were did you find the time to educate yourself? After injecting between track heats?

      April 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • liam

      Pretty sure track is the sport with short shorts and tights.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. FourthAndOne

    The menu of opportunities to play the victim never stops growing. Let's call it for what it is and stop living under dillusional pretenses. It is just another legal money grab by those who are encouraged by sports agents to play the victim and blame others for life's inevitabilities – nothing more, nothing less. Full stop.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • buccakenji

      You forgot to mention the attorneys. They will collect a hellava lot more than the players if this ever goes to court. And oh BTW, hockey players take a lot more punishment than any football player I have ever seen and they do it on back-to-back nights occasionally.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    This is ridiculous. He, and every other player, chose to play the game. Is the NFL, NHL, or any other contact league supposed to be sued every time a player gets sick when he gets old? We might as well just watch women's sports because that's what it's coming down to.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Charvel

    My mother in-law is 84 and has Dimentia... can she sue the NFL too?? Oh wait... she didn't play football. She owned a Kirby store... so should she sue Kirby??

    Alex has about as much smarts as Mongo!!

    April 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ♚Mmmmm♛

    duuuuuh!
    (drooling-slobber)

    ddUUUUUUHHHHHH!
    (slobbering-slobber)

    DDDDUUUUUUUUUH!
    (snapback-slurping-rollacoaster-slobber)

    April 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MAC

    So you go to work at a chemical plant and the operators tell you, "don't worry, all these chemicals are safe and don't cause cancer". Then they hide information that directly contradicts what they have told you and you keep working and then develope cancer. It then comes out that those Chemicals were the reason that you got the cancer and they knew that the chemicals were hazardous but hid that knowledge from you. Would you sue? How is this diefferent? If the league knew that there were issues with head trauma and concussions and hid that info from you, shouldn't they be somewhat liable for the outcomes? Just saying.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      The problem is... at what point do people become responsible for not only their own being but for their own knowledge as well.

      Can anybody who has played football in their life, regardless if it was in 1910 or 2010, honestly look at themselves in the mirror and say, "no I didn't know that repeated blows to the head would cause brain injuries"? I mean at what point does common sense become enforceable?

      I mean if it was 1960, and I let somebody hit me in the head with a baseball bat once a week for a few years, should I sue somebody who tells me that it was ok and nothing would happen to me? Shouldn't I at some point become responsible enough to at least consider the possibility that it might not be a good idea.

      Last time I checked, acknowledging everything that somebody tells you as fact is about the more unintelligent and naive thing a person can do.

      Libraries existed when old-timers played football. An hour's worth of reading in many medical journals outlined the effects of repeated blows to the head on the brain, and that was back in the 60s.

      Wake up.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Monk

      Terrible, atrocious analogy full of flawed "logic" and conflicting "reason".

      April 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mercury Morris

    Yo. Alex. You weren't the sharpest pencil in the box going in. [to the NFL] They'll have to pro rate you like a worn down tire tread. Offhand, you sustained about 30% additional damages. Plus we gotta keep some back for all the guys that YOU gave concussions to. Bro. You didn't just tackle people. Dick Butkus incarnate more like.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JerseyJeff

    What job does a guy that has spent his entire high school and college career training for the NFL go do after leaving the NFL?

    They leave the NFL and these guys don't have job opportunites, especially with blown out knee's and shoulders and scrambled egg brains. A career in the NFL is between 2-8 years to make a lifetime of money and most players start making $325,000 a year and never see $1 million. These guys can't go work in an office setting and can't do anything physical anymore.

    The NFL and it's popularity and riches were made on the backs of giant men bashing each other apart.
    Why is it unfair to expect the NFL and owners to pay for the damage done playing for them? The NFL gets what they want out of these guys and forgets them when they retire. That isn't fair.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Michael

    If the league intentionally withheld information such as they did, then they are definitely liable....of course they players knew they could get hurt, but they had no info regarding long-term effects....why? because the NFL INTENTIONALLY kept that info to themselves so that the good players would stay and give big hits and attract viewers, which brings in more money....NFL greed at its finest....

    April 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. FauxNews

    The NFL should immediately sue the fans.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Elizabeth

    One would think that those who played the game would know that they were being hit on the head – duh! There is such a thing as consenting to the injury, and many players I know actually lie and minimize the extent of injuries to stay in the game. How dumb is THAT? Yes, managers and coaches should keep obviously injured people out, but it's hard to warn of a danger that is only now being discovered/appreciated. These men made large sums of money and should have planned for their retirement from the game, including planning for their medical care. They sure knew they'd "pay" for the hits they took to their bodies, so why did they assume their heads were any different? The lawsuit seems like a bad case of "give me more" from the faded starts of yesteryear, simply because they might be able to extort it.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Chad Dumpington

    Attorney: Your honor, this man allowed a live boy to engage in interfloor travel via dumbwaiter.

    Judge: Pay up, Mr. Goodell.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Philip

    @Mercury Morris. Exactly. Alex Karras was a headhunter straight our of the Dick Butkus mold. Oh, they teach the art today as never before. But bringing a man down hard au naturale...Alex Karras is your man. (If dick Butkus isn't available or if Jack Tatum isn't big enough)

    April 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Michael

    It's about time the players did this! I'm trying to understand what took so long! Sports Illustrated brought something similar to this 20 years ago! The team doctors look at THE TEAM'S best interest, and NOT the player's! Is the player OK to go back in and butt heads? Sure! He drools a little and complains about headaches, so I gave him a Tylenol....he's cleared to play!

    April 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ChrkeePrde

    It's all about the money.. pity

    April 13, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
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