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. Spence

    Even as the technology of American Football uniforms and equipment have gotten better over the last 50 or 60 years, injuries have increased. Some might speculate because the players "feel" so much more protected that they hit harder and harder thinking that they are so well protected they won't cause serious injury.

    Contact sports need better regulation to avoid what amount to criminal assaults of players by players on the field. In New Orleans the intentional injuries to players by other players should have resulted in arrest and conviction for assault, not normal field contact.

    April 15, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. George M

    Great life NFL even being a star and even betting on games back then , then in Hollywood making movies
    doe not seem like brain damage to play and make movies its seems its a way to make money
    he needs it to go play the horses or some thing

    April 15, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Hey George, How about putting yourself in his place, with the constant dizziness, and other dementia symptoms, and see if you still feel the same way. You also have to remember that back when Alex Karras was playing, equipment wasn't anywhere near as good as it is now, and the salaries were much less than they are now also.

      April 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee

      George ... Ah... What? Is that suppose to be some dialect of English? If you played for the NFL, perhaps you need to add your name to the lawsuit.

      April 16, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
    • srichey321

      Nice comment George. Aren't you glad that you sit home dementia free?

      April 16, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      George- as someone who was routinely concussed through college and high school football, and is now (at 55) blessed with chronic conditions that include damage to the CNS, headaches (still) and living on disability as a result, trust me in saying that Mr. Karras is not about money here. I am confident that he's got plenty. With CTE you slowly but surely lose your faculties.

      April 16, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. fred bazzeeda

    how can one take this guy seriously? he know what he was doing and the sport he was playing. so, now he needs the cash so, what do you do in the USA? sue sue sue and put the blame one everything and everyone else.....and try to make a lot of cash in the meantime.

    April 15, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. fryuujin

    guess he didn't save enough from his bar/peep show back in the day

    April 15, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ula

    When Karras was playing football, didn't he realize he was taking shots to the head? I'd feel a lot more sorry for him if he'd stopped at warning people of the dangers of contact sport, but at this stage, expecting a settlement from the NFL is just a bit much.

    April 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dean

    All athletes know the dangers of there occupation. When they sign the contract they know that the next game they play may be the last. They are told run into that wall of human bodys and they do it because its there job. With the multimillion dollar contracts the get these days they should all just be quite and play the game.

    April 15, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Logic

      Morgage, retirement not enough funds should be suing the so called union. This is 2012 the statue ot limitations!

      April 16, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Lee

      "All athletes know the dangers of there (their) occupation. When they sign the (a) contract they know that the next game they play may (might) be the last. They are told (to) run into that (a) wall of human bodys (bodies) and they do it because its there (their) job. With the multi(-)million dollar contracts the(y) get these days (,) they should all just be quite (quiet) and play the game."

      April 16, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  7. RogueDiplomat

    When these guys played, there were no MRIs or sophisticated diagnostic techniques to analyze head injuries. The idea that the NFL willfully withheld scientific and medical information that it could not have possibly had because the technology didn't even exist on which to make a meaningful determination is ridiculous. Where's the negligence? Where's the cover-up? There is no legal basis for this suit, as bad as i feel for the players. Like boxer, these guys knew the risks but connections between repeated head=blows were anecdotal, NOT scientifically casual.

    April 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Spoken like a true lawyer... Whether or not, they had these procedures/tools back then, is immaterial. They exist now, they have conclusive proof that these injuries exist, and the NFL ownership should stand up and be counted. It's not like they can plead poverty.

      April 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil Spectre

      The NFL needs to be shut down. And will be eventually.

      April 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. karlheiz

    Karras did not complain while he was making the big bucks in the NFL. Money gone, gotta find a new gig.

    April 16, 2012 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. betamaze

    Mongo like lawsuits

    April 16, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  10. Logic

    Its not like karras when through a hit and run by a car driver with a cellphone.

    April 16, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  11. old3putt

    Thanks Lee. To meny postrs wIt early dimincha

    April 16, 2012 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  12. Phil Spectre

    Mongo Straight..

    April 16, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. babakazoo

    It's pretty embarrassing these old guys now have the juevos to sue the league that gave them fame.

    They made the decision. If one of these old timers wins, the NFL will fold. The league is already moving to Flag Football. We have become such a weak society of moral minority whiners.....

    Here comes China!

    April 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jazz

    The problem is that the NFL was telling players that they cannot sustain permanent brain damage from football. Yea I know it sounds stupid to think people actually believed them but they did. Look at how many parents let their kids play little league football. Again, these kids are getting permanent brain damage but little league coaches are telling them that is not possible. So when the NFL, colleges, high schools and little league coaches start telling the players and their parents that there is a very good chance that they will sustain permanent brain damage then they should sue the NFL. I am surprised people aren't suing colleges, high schools and little league teams for the same reason.

    April 16, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. 60minuteman

    I feel like one of the lucky ones. I never made it out of high school football without bad knees. I could barely walk the rest of my life, but at least I could still use my brain. Had offers from a couple dozen colleges to play & turned them all down...

    April 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
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