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. Larry

    Right up there with the smokers suing the tobacco companies and reparations for slavery.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kevin

    Know one knew that the end result of football would be this severe. These guy spend their days in agonizing pain far away from the roar of the crowd and adoring fans. I was a very good athlete and my four month old son is very large for his age. but I am very concerned about him playing this game. No big deal for me but when you have a son and to think he could end up like this as he surely will be pressured to play. Its makes you very hesitant. The money just ain't worth your health.

    April 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • 23

      Knowing all of that, you will do the right thing and not pressure him to play, right?

      April 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hello

      they got their fame and fortune.... now they have to pay the price for being so stupid to beat the krap out of their bodies.

      no one MADE them play football.. it was a choice they made....

      April 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      I agree with you. I always really loved football, and enjoyed going to games tremendously. But the toll that football takes on the men who play it has in recent years very dampened my enthusiasm. And lately information about how knocking opposing players out of games is promoted by coaches, to me describes a professional sport that has grown too ruthless. I don't take my son to games, he is bi,g but I have intentionally never shown much interest in football and he is not interested in playing. It is time to either radically change the game or for society to move to something less violent.

      April 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reason & Logic

      To Hello: the men who played in the 50's, 60's, and 70's didn't make the money the players make nowadays. That is why they are only looking for compensation to help defray their medical expenses.

      April 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Scott Petersen

    Football players filing suit for head injuries resembles when smokers sued the tabaco companies for lung damage. Any intelligent person would/should be aware of the risk of playing football.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Do people even read these articles before they post a statement? The basis for these suits is that the NFL withheld information from players regarding the severity of long term health impacts. Please read the article before you post.

      April 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Quo

    My son want play football and he good plyer. I think he get hutt so I say no more football for you. He cry. I make him play soccer now and he not get hurt.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reason & Logic

      Head trauma is inherent in soccer too.

      April 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hello

    These guys had played football in Jr/high school, college, on the playground etc before they even went pro...
    anyone can see watching a game that hard trauma is part of the game... I say.. They put themselves in the game and knew all too well that it injurers the body..
    these guys are like a soldier who in injured in a WAR he willing signed up for now wants to sue.
    for get it...

    .They made the choice to put themselves in this business... now they have to pay for the fun and huge money they got.

    no cry babies now. buck'os..... contact sports is not for whimps... either in the game or years after... suck it up and call it a lesson learned the hard way..

    April 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Infrequent Poster

    At least he did it right away and didn't wait until he was 76 years old when many people have natural onset of dementia!!!!(sarcasm....) This is just another frivilous lawsuit for someone looking for some quick bucks. What's next bull riders, bronco riders and clowns suing ranchers for injuries from rodeo due to the mean-spirited animals they supply??? This mentality is pitiful in our society.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BoFo

    This suit is stupid. The people who got famous and made mega-bucks for playing football should "man up" and accept whatever happened to them as a result. It's ridiculous to tie up the legal system with such frivolity.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reason & Logic

      The men who played in the 50's, 60's, and 70's didn't make the money the players make nowadays. That is why they are only looking for compensation to help defray their medical expenses.

      April 13, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. cloudraptor

    Funny... all this outpouring of emotion for someone who played a game for money, knowing that the game could cause bodily damage. This is due to the choice he made to play and continue playing. Funny that the same people who feel sorry for this guy would spit on poor people for their own choices. Minds truly flip when sports become involved.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Carl

    Current players are crying because they can't "HIT", asking to "LET THEM PLAY". Old players are crying because of concussions.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bob

    I think if they made football more safe it would take the meaning of what football has always been. I think we enjoy watching all those millionaires getting beat up each week...

    April 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jamison

    These "bright" college kids want to earn the mega-millions that football has to offer. They don't think about what the consequences are and perhaps don't care. With that being said, they should not be able to sue if there are injuries sustained.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. todd

    you were given a college education and a lucrative salary as a pro,, just because you could play the game–all of these frivollis laws suits will be thrown out!!!

    April 13, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Walker

    76 years old, he should be happy.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. social network

    That the NFL withheld info from studies on brain injuries is what makes the lawsuit justifiable (said as an armchair lawyer).

    April 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Gremlin

    Carlos has the answer to what caused this:

    April 13, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
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