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. bernie

    Wait... WEBSTERS dad was a NFL players?

    April 16, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Eric

    I stopped reading at "Detroit Lions standout". I know the media lies to us, but come on. Detroit Lions stand out...that's funny

    April 16, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Britt

      FYI Alex Karras was double teamed most of his career. He was that GOOD!

      April 16, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lejaune

    From now on, every football should have a warning message "Playing football is dangerous and may cause head injuries or even death" just like on cigarette pack.

    April 16, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steven

      Helmets at the junior high and high school level do have a warning label that must be read before players can participate in contact. I'm not saying that this happens at every school, but the label is there.

      April 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Random

    "Mongo is only pawn in game of life."

    April 16, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • loverpoint

      Soon "Horses across America " will be suing Mongo aka Karras for his violence towards horses.

      April 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. EdGar

    I don't think the players understood they were selling their souls to the devil/s.

    April 16, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. prophet1965

    As if in the first season they told them 'Here's a million dollars/" You may get hurt but you can walk away now and be a bouncer or play.

    April 16, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. zeb

    you can't mean it! slamming your head into a large hard object repeatedly for years can cause brain damage>? who'd a thunk it? Makes you question exactly when the dementia started.

    April 17, 2012 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
  8. toadears

    Most young players would play anyway, but they should have been warned.

    April 17, 2012 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
  9. Borque

    And I thought the smokers' lawsuits were ridiculous...

    April 17, 2012 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
  10. Eddie

    Sue NFL, why? Before they become professional they played in high school and college, who is going to say that their injury did not happened during those period. Is it because NFL has. Deep pocket? Dementia is a common condition of old people and Alex Kara is 76, he is old. I am 59 and am starting to forget names of friends and I never played football my sport is Chess. I have to device a system to remember names ang events like carry a small notebook and write their name and a long description, I do the same thing to my work, I am an automation programmer so I put a long comments which describe how each of my function works and I also name my variables Microsoft style, example a variable taking a radar speed I call it " speedOf radarDouble". There are a lot of factors that will cause Dimentia, to name a few hereditary, food preservatives and age. I would suggest to Alex Kara's to look back and think of the good things he enjoyed when he played football and look on the present and admit that he is old and Dimentia and Alsheimer is starting to set in.

    April 17, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. whew

    Next headline – horse sues Mondo for punching him in the face!

    April 17, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. G

    Normal people don't think getting hit by 300+ pound men to be a good thing. Doing on a regular basis... I think the brain injury happened before he started playing.

    April 17, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  13. RiadaKram

    BS Alex. You and all the others wouldn't stop playing and taking those checks if you had been informed of every potential negative outcome. You would have signed waivers in triplicate. Like all the others that have sued, you Alex are a greedy embarrassment.

    April 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Micky

    Unfortunately, there are many thousands of men who develop dementia at 76 and their symptoms start 12 years before at 64, just like Alex. Many of these men never played football nor had a history of concussions. Have you ever seen football players eat? Have you seen what they eat, especially in the late 50's and early 60's when Alex played and ate to maintain weight? I would think someone who played football in their early twenties who had multiple consussions might show symptoms of brain damage long before they were 64. A case in point is Muhammed Ali. Alex's dementia could be more related to his eating habits over the years, than it is related to head trauma. Or, it could be simply inherited. Another case in point, President Ronald Reagan started showing signs of dementia in his early 70's. Can we blame that on his having been an actor in his 20's and 30's?

    Dementia in your 40's and 50's sounds like possible head trauma. In your 60's and 70's sounds more like simple dementia, due to age, hardening of the arteries, and simple life choices. My Father started showing signs of dementia at 62 and never played football in his life.

    April 18, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Panasonic HDC Shopping

    Hi my loved one! I want to say that this article is amazing, nice written and include almost all significant infos. I would like to see extra posts like this .

    April 22, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
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