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. NukeTim

    How's he gonna prove he had a brain to start with?????


    April 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MRN32

    Remember, back in the day? Pain is temporary and glory is forever. That's what some people in sports were told. That's what I was told in my sport. Now at 50 the pain is horific and there is no glory to show for it. But the memories are still good. I think. What was I saying.

    April 13, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dee

    All the old fart NFL brutes are running out of cash and playing the "oh wo was me"

    April 13, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DK

    Greedy pigs. Never enough.

    April 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • retphxfire

      Hmmmm, I wonder how you'd react if your employer KNEW that your job had the realistic potential to cause you significant healt issues after retirement, never told you and, in fact, lied to you about for decades. You probably couldn't get your hand out there fast enought.

      April 14, 2012 at 6:28 am | Report abuse |
    • JerseyJeff

      Average NFL player salary in 1970 was $27,000.
      Really greedy... He would like the NFL to pay for the medical treatment of injuries he sustained while making the NFL hundreds of millions.

      April 14, 2012 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  5. brian


    April 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Abe

    I dont see how he or anyone else can sue the NFL and hope to win. You play the game and you kow the risk. Troy Aikman, argueably one of the best quarterbacks to play the game, rRetired earlier than he could have due to concussions and his concern for his long term health if he continued. He is joined by a host of other players who retired due to physical concerns. There isnt even any gaurantee that this is what is causing his problem. I feel bad for him, feeling yourself slipping away must be horrible, but he new the risk.

    April 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • retphxfire

      Troy Aikman and other 'younger' players saw how the older group was suffering, had at least some information about long-term effects of multiple hits/concussions. Players like Karas were told not to worry. You guys need to stop being ignorant by choice....

      April 14, 2012 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
  7. dan

    Must have gone through all his Webster and Little House on the Praire money.

    April 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. USCitizen99

    Did he think when he started the NFL in 1958 he thought he would even see 76 much less have great health?
    he's 76. of course he has dementia. was he supposed to not get it and now it's the NFL's fault?
    Alex is lucky he can walk much less be alive based on his born year and career.

    April 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John Steel

    "Mongo just pawn in game of life."

    April 13, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Shooter

    Notice it is the same law firm filing these law suits! They smell gold and will lie and cheat to get what's theirs, uh, I mean their clients.

    April 13, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ham

      Strange that the lawyers are blamed when juries make the verdicts and award the damages. The fault is not in the stars dear Brutus, it lies with us.

      April 14, 2012 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
  11. portland tony

    What's the matter with with some of you commenters: No one definitely knew or was talking about concussions having a long term effect on players. It was after your bell was rung...if you could count 5 fingers that a trainer stuck in your were back in the game..Dementia is forever means nothing when you are losing your mind....Equipment manufacturers need to find new ways to lessen the damage their products do. God, there has to be science out there to solve some of these helmet to helmet debilitating injuries.

    April 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. David Crosby

    Everyone who ever played football knows its dangerous, liked it and didn't care..The glory and physical satisfaction outweighed the risk and now after its over they want what more fame..more money..?

    April 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ican Heare

    We are still researching and trying to fully understand the physiological causes and effects of concussions and dementia and relative to the few facts we have today we knew so much less fifty years ago. So to say that the resulting injuries they incurred were totally anticipated, wow you must have some Nobel Prize winning neurological research you've been holding back from the rest of us for the last half century. The NFL had unique statistics on timing, duration, causes, and effects of injuries and related chronic medical problems and chose not to make this information public. That's why they have conceded that they did something wrong. The NFL, football players, courts, lawyers, judges, they all have established something wrong occurred here. Only people in denial are the few posting their confusing rants.

    April 13, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jim W.

    Mr Ican, I agree with your comment but it is our culture that encourages our youth to enter into this sport in the first place so in my mind practically everyone is responsible (the whole culture) business, education, society for accepting a potentially physically impairing behavior to be glorified in the first place. So who will be the guinea pigs while we attempt to make this sport safer, your son, nephew? It is a great sport but it doesn't seem that taking the physicality out of it will render it to be such an interesting thing to spectate over.

    April 14, 2012 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Ican Heare

      Sorry Jim W. but I have to disagree that our culture encourages the concealment of statistically significant injury causing health problems. You see I'm not in an argument about football itself. I'm only addressing the actions of the NFL. Using your logic then I could say well we have a government that supports the corporation of businesses so businesses that produce and dispose toxic waste into communities and conceal it, even knowing that members of the community are reporting increased cancer rates in the area of dumping, is completely expected, anticipated, supported, and justified. Sorry but your argument is as bad as Tebow throwing against the Patriots... any given Sunday.

      April 16, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Walter

    The sad thing is that with this many plaintiffs, the only one that will get a good payout when settled (and yes it will be settled in about ten years) is the lawyers. The players new the risk! This is just like the smokers cases. All ten thousand of them. So sad......

    April 14, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
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