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. sharky

    Ok so, he played football, football is a CONTACT sport, he was paid to play football, he then went onto acting and was rather successful there as Webster lasted 6 seasons, plus he was in Blazing Saddles, WAIT A minute he was also a professional wrestler, UH OH another contact sport, and he was involved in coaching of football as well, and NOW he enjoys watching it. Now strange in my thinking, if you are going to sue the NFL, the very thing that made you rich, that you now want to claim is caused you mental problems and physical problems, why would you continue enjoy watching it. Wouldn't you hate it since football did this to you.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. wallynm

    No way to defend the charge – YOU should have done more.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. footballfan

    Here is the problem with all the lawsuits: They knew the risk and their ego's are so big that most of the time they didn't tell anyone they were hurt in fear of losing their starting position and fear of being traded. You guys knew the risk, so shut up and be a man

    April 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JerseyJeff

    The NFL and the owners make WAY more than players, many players on a roster don't make "millions" and NFL careers are far shorter than you think. It's not golf or baseball, football is a lot harder on the body.
    The NFL makes HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS on these players bashing themselves to pieces. Why is it unfair to expect the NFL and owners, who make true fortunes on the hard hitting and physical sport that breaks down He-Men, to provide medical care after retirement to the players that made them fortunes and got their medical problems playing for them?
    A LOT more NFL players than you might think are not rich or even poor after leaving the NFL.

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

      Each and every player (current or former) has or had the option to seek other employment. Cases such as this do nothing but clog up our court system.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • JerseyJeff

      Sure. What job does a guy that has spent his entire high school and college career training for the NFL go do?
      Does it cover medical expenses?
      You leave the NFL and these guys don't have job opportunites, especially with blown out knee's and shoulders and scrambled egg brains. These guys can't go work in an office setting and can't do anything physical anymore.
      The NFL and it's popularity and riches were made on the backs of giant men bashing each other apart.
      Why is it unfair to expect the NFL and owners to pay for the damage done playing for them? The NFL gets what they want out of these guys and forgets them when they retire. Early or not.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      I do agree, but that is the fault of rich fans willing to shell hundreds of dollars for tickets. Like people would only accept 10-50 a ticket, then the nfl would make way less, they owners would make way less, and the players would make way less. The rich fuel the greed of all entertainers, shame on anyone who is greedy beyond their means.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • dblewis01

      For the same reason Muhammad Ali doesn't sue the Boxing Associations. He knew the risks. As much as owners make lots of money, the players themselves played knowing the risks. Do you sue the car maker if you get in a car accident. No, you know the risks.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. AFVet

    Well gee Mr. Hoorable Judge, I had no idea that getting repeatedly getting hit in the head on a regular basis would hurt anything. It sounds like something Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies would say. Mr. Karras cashed his paycheck and played professional football by choice.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Nick

    The guy is 76 years old. My grandma is 74, has never played football and she has dementia.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • I think you....

      should have grandma sue the NFL.
      What the hell...she's got a good a case as these guys...

      April 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Chris Murray

    If you examine the NFL helmet, going back to the 1960's, you will see a hazard warning about the use of the helmet located in the lower right half of the back of the helmet.

    That being said, the NFL has had concrete evidence since 1991 about health issues that players suffered post career. However, the NFL's repsonse to what has now become to be known as the "Ball State Report", was one of non action.

    Let's remember thos immortal words uttered by the late Gene Upshaw: "I don't care about retired players....they don't pay my salary." Ignoring the plight of the retired players is something the league has been doing years.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • J

      Then, obviously, all of the guys playing it do not care, either.

      Abolish that the answer?

      One does not partake in a sport where they KNOW injuries occur, and then blame the sport they willingly played for said injuries...that is patently ridiculous.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jimatmad

    Mongo just pawn in game of life.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sofa King

    Alex Karras is married to the OJ prosecuter? Wow, learn something new every day.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris Lynch

      No, Susan Clark was an actress. She costarred in "Webster," and in a couple of movies Alex Karras also appeared in, like "Porky's" and a biography of Babe Didrickson. The OJ prosecutor was Marcia Clark.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. All things in perspective

    Dunbar – avg US Household income in 1970 was $9870.... Ev en at $23K, they were 'top 1%'ers"......all about choices,,,

    April 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • JerseyJeff

      Yes, but have an entire career of 4 years and little to no REAL job opportunities afterward.
      Those guys need to earn a lifetime of money in 2-8 years. Everybody else gets 40.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dunlar

      All things, the average US income in 2010 was $26,364, so by your logic, someone making ~$42,000 is a 1%er? Too funny.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cranial Crash Tester

    NFL: Keep-on sensationalizing big hits in your adverts
    Players: Keep-on being macho, calling yourselves "Warriors," saying: "That's what we DO!" and calling-out "snitches."
    Retirees: Keep-on conveniently forgetting things you did and the quotes you made as a player.

    See y'all in court, and in the tabloid sporting news.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • K

      like like like like like like like like like!

      April 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jon

    The irony is that it is the physical risk that alot of players hold up as the justification for their huge salaries. And somehow their resulting injuries, in a contact sport, is the NFL's fault? Give me a break.

    Wait a minute. Since I'm in IT, and my eyesight is getting poorer, I guess I should sue my employer. Its obviously their fault that I have to use a computer monitor for eight hours a day and I had no choice but to work for them. Maybe I can retire early on a disability. My poor eyesight is causing my a lot of problem, particulary in poorly lit restaurants and when lining up putts. And it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that I turn 50 this year...

    April 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ThePastaSauce

    Nobody forced him to play football – can the other players sue HIM for every time he tackled them????

    April 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • L

      Extremely good point, lol............

      April 13, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. boheb

    The has- been has run out of money and too dumb to earn more money. Has no choice but to sue.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CullThePopulace

    I had a head injury when I played football in junior high school.
    It was given to me by the head cheerleader because she used too much 'teeth.'

    I learned my lesson.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • M

      Was she your pet snapping turtle?

      April 13, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
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