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. portland tony

    Back in the day, the football players helmets were worn as a protective device. As the game "matured" and players became bigger, stronger, and faster, and with rule changes concerning holding the helmet became a weapon. In essence a battering ram to be driven into the opposing player to stop his forward movement. Head protection in football. has evolved from no helmet, to the soft leather helmet, to the rock hard helmet worn today. Perhaps some sort of design compromise could help lessen the use of the helmet as a weapon like softening the outer there would be more shoulder to shoulder contact and lessen the need for head to head collisions

    April 14, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. Rob

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that constantly getting hit in the head, breaking bones, and tearing muscles, tendons, and ligaments, is gonna cause a lifetime of pain and have debilitating effects in the long run...

    But I guess you have to be at least smarter than a jock.

    April 14, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Ricky Carmichael

      Have you seen that movie Porky's?

      Cherry Forever!

      April 15, 2012 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
    • randy2008

      I agree. It's a shame that so many people are injured for life playing that sport (including kids). One can only wonder where that sport, on all levels, is headed next.

      April 15, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jOy

    When you join the NFL you are not going to get paid to critique movies, you are getting paid to get hit and get hit a lot. There will be physical ramifications as a result, that's a given. Shouldn't be a shock.

    April 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin H

      I never have been a fan of violent sports not because I'm a "p****"" as some maintain, but instead because life threatening injuries are part of the game. Players are paid well today – in professional sports. But overall the game is brutally concussive. The injuries sustained in football will change your body for the rest of your life. Kids as young as 10 get into intense football training – in the hopes that one day they will go "all State", then "college" or "Pro". At the very least I think players should be paying into a long term liability and care program so that their injuries will be taken care of – regardless of their status, whether they're the running back or the tight end or whatever their position in the hierarchy and pay grade. Right now the most valuable players get taken care of – the rest – are on their own.

      April 15, 2012 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  4. Guest

    So, will they be donating a portion of the millions they received in salaries, product endorsements, signing bonuses, etc, that they received while they were playing? You know, to help the legal team in this suit...... What it comes down to is the money. Another word that fits is: G R E E D.

    April 14, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • fhtfire

      Remember we are talking about an OLD NFL player. In the Early 70's they were NOT making the millions that they are making now. If an NFL player in this day and age complains...they are GREEDY...they need to take there millions and put it in an account for the Future and not buy 5 Cars, oversized houses and the list goes on. This man did not make elevendy billion dollars and the NFL knew back then about concussions but never told the players...anyway that be it.

      ROck and ROLL


      April 14, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • thatbrutha

      This is a sad GUH moment. Science probably had no idea repeated concussions were so damaging long term. Everything takes time, dollars and Science to figure out the effects. In the 50s-80s how much did SCIENCE KNOW? How many lives were saved in the auto industry until seat belts were made mandatory, smoking and drinking while pregnant?
      I think this could all be solved by giving an increased blanket pension to all older players, and increasing research thanks to our military and the large number of troops that are suffering from brain trauma.

      April 14, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • bowlkoff

      I am not sure in the 60's these guys received all the money and bonus you speak about... Also if they were asked to play to soon after a head injury that is neglect on the medical staff, this should be obvious PLEASE READ the article

      April 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bill Pettinger

    I p layed ball in the 60's & 70's bothhs & college. I can't count how many times the people you trusted, coach and/or team Dr, tiold me to shake it off and go out and hurt someone. So were players really informed of the danger? The real question is whether the league new the dangers and either hid or played down them.

    April 14, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Concerned

      If no one knew the the consequences then how could they sue them? If they did maybe that would be a different story. Because I see all the time now that a player has to be approved before returning to the game.

      April 15, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  6. fernace

    I think the issue is that we know more now that we did 30 yrs ago, or even 10! Not every player get's a multi-million$ contract & we know for a fact that players are made to play through unhealed injuries & pain! If 14 out of 15 autopsies of football players have found dementive qualities associated w/unhealed head injuries, that's a problem! No physical sport, or even walking down the street is ever perfectly safe, but it's callous of a business such as NFL to make gargantuan amounts of $$, but wash their hands of players who become disabled from injuries they were told to "suck it up" & play through! This is how knees, hamstrings, rotator cuffs etc. give out, because they never have time to heal properly & thusly cut careers short! That is on the League itself, not on the players! Good Luck to Alex Karras & Susan Clark in their mission to stand up to a Giant!!

    April 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Caiha

    All they're saying is they should be allowed more time to recover after a serious concussion, why are you idiots making it out to be something else?

    April 14, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. denverboy

    I read in Scientific America a couple of months ago..that the NFL has been sidestepping this Issue for a least thirty years...They knew...Hey I like Football..but Im not thrilled about the NFL as Enterprise that uses it's HUMAN assets in a dehumanizing way for the so called GLORY OF THE GAME...Thats real sick stuff...These are lfesh and blood people here..They have lives and family and the whole shooting match..To sacrife there Future health upon the ALTER of NFL GLORY and revenue ...Is sick..twisted stuff...If it's proven the NFL knew...LIKE THE TABACOO INDUSTRY..KNEW but yet did nothing to prtect it's players...well thats just Evil and greed in bed is a picture of what AMerica has become....... PROFIT AT ANY COST....ANY COST

    April 14, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dave Olson

    I'm old enough to remember players with cardboard in their protective gear. That was helmut, shoulder pads and knee pads. No face guards, nothing. I was a kid when my Dad and I went to see a Chicago Cardinals versus Pittsburg Steelers. A number of players both played offense and defense. Knut Rockey, the Four Horsemen. Of course this was long before the use of anabolic steroids.So before you can lay blame, it is not the game in and of itself. It is money from the TV sponsors, it is big money to the coaches and of course, the cheering section is rooting for more TV rights. Now then want to extend the regular league season by four more games. I had my nose broken twice and more than I can count tackles. Many rang my chimes, but the same went for all of us. Being tall with decent hands I played tight end. If you got a nose bleed, you just said you were going to sit under a tree until it stops, then back in. We did not have agents worried about their commission. The military is having the same problem. Roadside IUDs, blowing up and under a Hummer in a shaped charge. That shaped charge directs the angle of the explosive.. Naturally the guys in the hummer are going to bounce around, and their head are going to be pingpong balls. Even the some of the most sophisticated body armor.

    April 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. SlaPPy

    Sports are just gay.

    April 15, 2012 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Watching You

      Like you?

      April 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. hoodinki

    the legal question will boil down to whether the Players assumed a reasonable risk, or if the harm they suffered could not be foreseen and could therefore not be reasonably assumed. In the meanwhile, we'll all be entertained by noise, drama, and irrelevant tangents.

    April 15, 2012 at 6:22 am | Report abuse |
  12. ronbro51

    Football is a senseless sport designed to hurt people and played to seem as if there is some real intelligence needed to play with all the high tech gear and tactical strategies. The pro athletes who make the astronomical salaries to play the game should be putting that money aside for some great insurance to cover their medical costs they will incur at some time in their life. If you are want to practice a sport that involves hurting someone take up boxing, mma or martial arts.

    April 15, 2012 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      If we as a nation spent the same amount we spend on sports (which are essentially games and thus not essential), our food banks would be full and our homeless shelters would be empty. But, we gotta pay millions to people whose 'job' it is to play games. If we stopped playing games, who would sit in sports bars yelling at the tv set?

      April 15, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  13. Concerned

    I am assuming that these are players that have used up a lot of their money and are no longer living the lavish lifestyle they once did. If they had used the money well, invested and did things right they would have enough money not to worry about suing for more. These guys all had medical doctors I am sure. Why did their doctors not read up on this? Do they have medical insurance? I guess it is just to make more money.

    If this suit is winnable it should be the same for all sports. Maybe soon wounded soldiers will be able to sue. I think it might impossible to sue the government.

    April 15, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      You hit the nail on the head. No pun intended. It's all about the all mighty Dollar. They can smell green... and it ain't AstroTurf...

      April 15, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
  14. I Got Out

    I think more than just football players suffer from CTE. I know some kids growing up who were constantly being smacked hard in the head by their moms and dads. I mean hard. The parents wouldn't think twice about a hand upside or on the back of the head. I've kept up on where these people are now and not one is without felony convictions for assault. They have a lot of problems. I wonder just how much damage to the brain some of this physical abuse cause. Even around the world.

    April 15, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Rita_S

    They know the risks but sometimes it's alright to try to grab some of the money the players earn for their teams and owners.

    April 15, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
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