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. guest

    The players clearly assumed the risk of the head injuries they now suffer from. It should come as no surprise that getting bashed in the head over and over is not good for you. Moreover, each of these players was more than able to get their own doctors to treat them if they wanted that. Thus, from a legal perspective, I see no case.
    That said, it would be good of the NFL to step up and help these guys and implement some policy to help all players. As a fan, I do care about the players and don't give a hoot about the owners. I don't want to see the players I enjoyed for so many years disrespected by the league in their time of need.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ED

    Mr. Papadopoulos???

    April 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. GFL

    "Hate tackling on the defense. Number 82. Game!"–GFL ref.
    San Francisco wins again.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Collin

    Tons of people in their 70's are diagnosed with dementia. The overwhelming majority never stepping foot on a professional football field. This lawsuit is bogus. High school players are warned and sign off on waivers acknowledging the dangers of the game. And we're supposed to believe that players at the highest level with the best medical staff money can buy aren't aware of the risks? Give me a break.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      True that!

      April 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • dik

      I played football in the '70s. Broken bones usually kept you out of a game. But you could take a hit, puke, passout, and if you could follow the doctor's finger (or how many fingers am I holding up (the answer was always 2)) you were sent back in.

      April 13, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roger

      Unfortunately you failed to read and/or comprehend the article. The article is about the NFL knowing about, hiding and not informing the players in the 70's & 80's of the potential for severe damage caused by repeated concussions and head hits.

      April 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • 10

      Roger, the game has been full-on contact since its inception. Anyone who has to be told something like this belongs in kindergarten drawing with a crayon, not playing football...gow silly can one get???

      April 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. liam

    Mongo just pawn in game of life.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jeff

    The city didn't warn me that crossing the street would be dangerous and when I did on the 10,000 time i got hit by a car. They owe me. Gimme a break. Football is a hard hitting game and as matter of fact, they played dirtier back in the 60's & 70's so maybe Mr. Karras is just as liable for his injuries as he may have caused them with his hard hits. If he would have not hit so hard maybe he would not have had the issues? He chose to hit the way he did. They were well compensated for thier labor even back in the 50's, 60's & 70's. Maybe they should have saved a few dollars just like the issues with todays sports stars and maybe today they would not be so desperate for money and they could pay the bills.......

    April 13, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. robert

    The NFL should countersue for his work on Webster

    April 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • 9

      Now THAT was funny!

      April 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. sparky

    Mongo only pawn in game of life!

    April 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Derek

    Did these players think it was good for their neurological health to be banging heads all these years? You shouldn't be allowed to profit for years off of something that you willingly signed up for and then try to profit off of it years later because those actions hurt your brain. Double dipping if you ask me.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pat Thumberall

    With the game tied at 24, it looks like we'll be seeing some MORE overtime from these two teams. Last night's gay bath house debacle that nearly kept this game from being televised...(what? These sorts of things happen in sports. Like concussions, they happpen)

    April 13, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Adam

    Nobody is sympathetic to this guy. That includes me!!!!

    April 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Stephen Liss

    they make there fame and money playing a game thats obviously dangerous and when things go down hilll someone has to be responsible... gotta love the American Ego.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. CJ

    I hear the families of drown fishermen are gonna sue Red Lobster next.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John

    "chemicals were hazardous but hid that knowledge from you. Would you sue? How is this diefferent? If the league knew that there were issues with head trauma and concussions and hid that info from you, shouldn't they be somewhat liable for the outcomes? Just saying."

    ALL of these guys played football before going pro. ALL of them. No one "hid" the fact that they were going to get hit, and NO ONE hid the fact that they might get hit in the head. NO ONE hid the fact that they might get hit in the head, HARD. For many, they were coached to inflict that type of hit on the opposition. Alex was one of those that received that type of coaching. If he was too stupid to understand the potential damamge that could be inflicted by a HARD HIT TO THE HEAD... Just sayin.

    April 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      He's suing now though? He's 76 years old. I call BS.

      April 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. KM

    WAAAAAHH !! It's everybody else's fault !! WAAAAAHH !!

    April 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
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