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. uglybugger

    Karras only pawn in [NFL's] game of life...

    April 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mr. Gumby


    April 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • P

      Thank you for the Python reference.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • DKPL


      April 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jack Harrington

    They really F'd up their heads. Going to sue. What did they think concussions are good for the brain. By the time Football starts again ticket prices will be so high only the 1%ers will be able to see a game at the stadium.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • JerseyJeff

      The ticket prices don't go up because of their costs, they go up because you will pay it and if you can't, there are another 80,000 people right behind you that will. Pricing is set on supply and demand meeting at an equilibrium. We love football, so we pay what they ask for everything.

      April 13, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Baycap

    Hey, I player football in high school. Can I sue my old school for something that happened in the 70s? Its never your own fault, even if you were paid well at the time. Funny that he wasn't complaining then. Boxing must be discontinued next?

    April 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      Sounds like a typical response from someone who really doesn't know what's going on. Conservative, right?

      April 13, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. goodgravy

    So many kids want to play football for the fame / wealth / adoring fans / the "ladies" .... but NONE of them wants to admit there WILL BE medical damage in their SENIOR years. NONE look at this and I don't think the NFL focuses on it either – it doesn't make money NOW!

    April 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Pro Sports Should Die

    LOL! I hope this is the beginning of the end of pro football. Time we stopped pouring money into this useless contact sport and into our kid's education – expand exposure to the arts and training for critical thinking. Anyhow...

    April 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. lance corporal

    in victor/victoria he played gay waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before it was acceptable for macho guys
    that took mongo balls

    yes he knew it was a contact sport but there should be a way we can have football and healthy lives
    if not football should go away and that is said by a guy who once wanted to play in the NFL and had a shot
    I love the game but too many lives are being ruined and cut short

    April 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. americanflag

    Really? That's like a soldier suing the Army because he got shot in a conflict.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • goferbroke

      I guess that's why have to sign a disclaimer when you join up. Doesn't NFL have a disclaimer?

      April 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • JerseyJeff

      No, because a wounded soldier gets disability and free medical care.

      April 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. goferbroke

    How about just banning the game? There are other sports where the chances of injuries are much smaller. Like golf.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. magicman01

    I bet James Harrison and all of the N. O. Saints bounty hunters will show up down the road with their hands out for compensation as well. The NFL is trying to protect these guys but it is impossible. The players obviously are out to hurt each other as witnessed by the recent bounty scandal and how many times have you heard of players hiding injuries or not wanting to come out of the game due to injury. The lawsuit is a big JOKE!

    April 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. GOPlies

    Dumbest thing I have read today. It was his choice to play

    April 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boo

      Back when Karras was playing, the medical community did not know what they know now about head trauma in the NFL. It's not dumb at all....

      April 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mr. Gumby


    April 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Adam

    Next then you know, boxers will sue for brain related injuries. Basketball players will sue for permanent injuries to the knees and knuckles. Soccer players will sue for shin and head injuries. Baseball players will sue for shoulder related injuries.... Football gave him fame, money, and women. This is the price to pay for it. He should've gone into other sports or positions if he's not willing to deal with the consequences.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mr. Gumby

    I'm posting comments too quickly. Slow down, says CNN. But that ruins the python reference I was going for.

    April 13, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Paul David

    Wow, this is the very definition of irony. That would be like Boxer suing for brain related injuries, I am sure they weren't complaining when when they were getting their million dollar paychecks. This makes no sense whatsoever..

    April 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
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