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. Gremlin

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

    Sissy boys couldn't take it , huh? Too Bad!!!!!!!!!!! Let them suffer. They got the money, fame and women at the time. So let these macho fools suffer.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Alex Karras is 76, which means he would have played football about 50 years ago when they didn't make millions of dollars to do it and didn't have "groupies." They played because they loved the game, they listened to their coaches and the team doctors who told them everything was just fine, not to worry about the concussions or the headaches, they'll wear off so just go out and play your butt off. Their helmets weren't protective at all. The NFL has to step up to the plate and take care of the players whose retirement lives they've ruined.

      April 13, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • grillkicker

      stupid post...

      April 13, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • WDinDallas

      Envious oftern?

      April 13, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. NorCalMojo

    I can't believe how few people are connecting this with the story about the Saints' bounty policy.

    That's clear liability right there.

    The NFL is screwed.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. duckforcover

    This is absurd. The point of football is to hurt somebody. Alex Carras hurt a lot of other people. It's not like he didn't know he would suffer later for playing the game.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Big Game James

    I love the cry baby comments. They are usually the guys who would wither like daisies if a lunged breathed on them. Madras played in an era that did not pay the athletes the huge salaries they have now. NFL just needs to make safety and consequences as clear as possible. Saw Earl Campbell on YouTube. NOBODY signs up for that.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Game James

      "Punter breathed on them." Damn auto-correct.

      April 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Charles

    It is pretty amazing that someone can go play a sport like football of all things, where your primary objective is to bang heads, and then come back later and try to sue them. I mean, are all the catchers in MLB going to sue MLB because they're sterile from catching all those have a job, you know how to do it, and the risks are inherent. When did we become such a nation of crybabies? This just goes to show the continued failing of society.

    April 13, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. peshwar

    People smoked long before the danger was known. Football players know this is a rough sport, and they get plenty of injuries. Unless Karas and the players can show they were put into games without enough time to recover from a previous concussion, his goose is cooked!

    April 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Game James

      Yeah medical technology was outstanding in the '60s.

      April 13, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Guido Sarducci

    Never figured Alex for being a candy-ass after being one of the toughest ever on the gridiron. all of his Webster money must be gone by now, and now he and his sweet wife are trying to strangle the golden goose just once more. A lot of 76 year old people suffer from dementia and age related things without ever having played pro football. Going to be hard to prove at this late date I think. Also, I think the people who are trying to regulate the game of football should just butt out of it. If a young man wants to risk his life for a few measly million bucks or so, then the police and firefighters shouldn't have to risk THEIR lives on a daily basis for a few hundred thousand over the span of their careers. Pay THEM instead of football players the money that THEY deserve! P, S. I personally THANK the men and women of Police and Fire Departments, and GOD bless each and every one of you!!!

    April 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • wade

      Didn't read your full post but he helped get the players the pay there getting now and deserves a cut

      April 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. wade

    These players made the NFL what it is today, and should be paid what todays players are making for getting them there!!!!!!

    April 13, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. GIUK

    God bless and protect you, Mr. Karras. I hope it all works out OK for you.

    April 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Stevelb1

    Didn't Karras get banned from football for betting on games?

    April 13, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ted Nugent

    He was never very smart. He needs to just deal with it.

    April 13, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Trevor Amon

    This story isn't about football. It's about the safety of the workplace and also it's about the right of anyone to sue any other person or organization for any reason and to have the legal system sort out the facts, precedents and apply the law appropriately. Silly comments that are being made about "sissy boys" is pretty pathetic. If any of us worked in a dangerous occupation but found out later that our employer knew it was more dangerous than we realized and kept this information from us and in addition did not nothing to try to reduce the level of danger then no doubt we would be in a position to seek legal recourse for the employer's negligence. That is not a very difficult concept to understand and it is one that applies in this case.

    April 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Confused

    These guys played at a time when the research didn't show any signs that brain damage would be the result of their playing. As well the NFL was not the employers of these players, their team owners were. This is a clear cut case of financially broke ex-NFL players trying to get paid something for doing nothing. It's the American dream!! File a law suit, get paid, and take no responsibility for your own financial security!! Wow, and to think I worry about my 401K. I should find someone to sue also....

    April 13, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Martina

    He's 76. Many people suffer demential at that age, especially the ones that never used their brains much.

    April 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
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