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. Michael

    Riiiiiiiiight. Is it that or is just because you are getting old? What makes you so special? Get lost. It's like people him who also try to abuse the VA and claim disabilities for things that are not service related years later.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. what a joke

    This is ridiculous – if you play a contact sport like football you know the dangers and risks – Its common sense. If everytime a football player hit their heads on something they had to take a few days/weeks off, there wouldnt be any teammates left to play the game by the end of the week. Are boxers now going to be starting lawsuits as well?

    April 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gary O.

      I agree to a large extent. However, the players aren't claiming they shouldn't have received concussions. They are claiming that the teams forced them to start playing again too soon after the concussion; before the concussion fully healed. Unknown whether or not this claim has validity. As always, it will be a battle of the experts that each side in the law suit will use at trial.

      April 13, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      We know now, they did not know then.

      April 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chet

      These are football players – not exacly the brightest people to begin with. So, I believe they didn't know smashing their head against people and things was bad for them. Everyone knew they were stupid. The question now is simply whether others should pay for their stupidity or whether they are responsbile for their own stupidity.

      April 13, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sean

    Whatever...I did him in an airport bathroom and he didn't seem like he had a head injury then.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mark

    Mongo only pawn in game of life....

    April 13, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Larry

    what a joke is 100% correct. Assumption of the risk, to make the bucks. Even when football players were not making what they do now, they were still making a lot more than John Q. Public.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dustin

    It's people like this and all of the other NFL players, and the attorneys involved that ruin our country. You can't tell me that he wasn't aware of possible hazards, i'm sure he played football since before he can remember. He made a choice to play the game and he had a very good career playing a game. Part of being an adult is taking responsiblility for your actions, just becasue you can sue someone doesn't make it right. This is going to ruin the NFL and all other professional sports. Thanks!

    April 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boohincus

      It might ruin the NFL? You mean that's a bad thing?

      April 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. 11

    Apparently his retirement plan...syndication residuals from 'Webster", didn't go so well...

    April 13, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. FargnIcehole

    I'm sorry that these players got hurt and have long term effects of the damage, but they can't use hind sight on these issues. This is like suing an auto maker if your family member was hurt 30 years ago in a car accident because they weren't wearing a seat belt.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Hawkeye fan

    Take your dizzy ass home.. shut up.. you knew the risks.. not like you were golfing.
    and your tv show sucked too

    April 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. tiny tony

    loser/millionare. i would trade his life for mine and go thru what he going thru, now. hey, when is the last time him or his wife had a job or did anything? they must be running out of money.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. MalibuChick

    This is a joke...they actually need a rule to say that smacking your head a bunch of times is not good for you? Get over it already! You assumed the risk!

    April 13, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Guest

    I read earlier in the year that the NFL is drafting medical waiver language to be inserted into contracts. Good. Kind of funny that these guys will beat their chests about "bounties" and "cart offs" such, and then cry a river when they retire from the game and years later they can barely use the bathroom themselves or do string together a coherent sentence. It's just like everything else in life-you do something that's dangerous and violent, you assume the risk that goes with it.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • 17

      It's astounding to me that they would have to put in writing what anyone with a lick of common sense would already know...hope they don't make the language too hard to understand! Yeesh.

      April 13, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. FerndaleMan40

    Right up there with smokers who sue tobacco companies. Priceless.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dean

    Next race car drivers will be suing because the SCCA didn't warn them that they might be involved in car wrecks and could get hurt.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Demunn

    LOL Mark!!! Classic.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
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