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. D

    The only way to avoid concusions and injury while playing football is NOT to play football.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jj

    I had no idea there were risks playing football. Whoda thunk.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mobetta

    Gee – suppose he accepted the paycheck (and the risks) while all this was going on???

    April 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Lew Costello

    Hey Gerald Ford played football without a helmet for years and he became President!

    April 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Come on, that is just to easy. It's like shooting fish in a barrel.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tamars

    He played football, had an illustious career and NOW he wants to sue the NFL? Shame on him.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. linda operle

    Anyone moronic enough to play this barbaric game gets what they ask for. Of course the millions they make should ease some of the pain. It's a slow march to death & dementia..

    April 13, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dunlar


      April 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • JerseyJeff

      The vast majority of NFL players don't make money like that and it only takes one bad day at work to ruin a career.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • H

      What a ridiculous comment.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      This is for your detractors, 1, who cares what gender the comment maker is, more female football fans then men,2nd, even" low paid" players make way way more money the their skill level dictates. My job saves lives daily, and still i will never make what these azzhats makes, screw greedy entertainers.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • JerseyJeff

      Yes, they make more than you... but they have a career of 2-8 years to make enough for a lifetime without benefits. You have 40.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dunlar

    Gregg Williams didn't help the NFL's case.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dunlar


      Not sure what you're talking about.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Answer

      Your comment to linda.

      April 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. April

    Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia–this is why there are lawyer jokes.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. onepercenter

    America should sue him for the deleterious effect Webster had on the country's collective intellect.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ConfusedInTexas

    I am confused, I thought this was a full contact sport, not Golf. If you don't want to get injured play chess, oops wait you might get carpel tunnel, and then sue for that too.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JerseyJeff

    Football is a contact sport, no doubt. Injuries and concussions will happen.

    The real problem here is with the NFL medical plan and contracts. An NFL player can ruin his career with a single bad hit and then is out of his contract, out of the NFL and out of medical coverage.

    We know playing in the NFL is dangerous. The NFL should do what it can to limit injury, but a proper medical plan that would carry through retirement needs to be adopted. The damage done for the NFL doesn't show up for years leaving an aging retired player to pick up the pieces without the NFL. The NFL benefitted from them giving their all, but doesn't want to pay down the road when injuries sustained while playing in the NFL catch up to the player. Not fair.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MIKE


    April 13, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dunlar


      April 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      I agree for the most part, but don't you have any pride in your grammar an ability to clearly make a point. Quite being so typical. Oh, and TURN OFF THE CAPS LOCK!

      April 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mickey1313

    Screw football players. They make boat loads of cash playing a game they would play for free, then, they act like they thought it was safe to crush each other s skulls. Saying they didn't know the risk is the same thing as saying that smokers don't know that is harmful. It's all money grubing, they deserve nothing.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dunlar

      The average NFL player salary in 1970 was $23000.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • I

      The concusion aspect wasn't there in 1970? Please.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Col. Jessup

    His acting career didn't pan out, and now he needs some moohla. It's the truth – handle it!

    April 13, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. esparmc

    My grandma suffered from dementia at the same age and never played in 1 NFL game. I uderstand these guys sustained injuries, but c'mon man, you can't think everything is gonna be fine from hitting your head so many times. It just crazy to place blame on someone other than yourself for something you should have had the common sense to realize.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
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