By Iowa City Press-Citizen
We were sad to hear about the death of Hawkeye all-American Alex Karras, who died Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 77. Karras had been suffering from kidney disease, heart disease, stomach cancer and dementia.
Karras was a two-time all-American for the Hawkeyes, a Heisman Trophy runner-up — unprecedented for a lineman — and the 1957 Outland Trophy winner. He was a first-round NFL draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 1958, where he played for 12 seasons. Karras then went on to a successful acting career, where he was best known for his role as Mongo in “Blazing Saddles.” Other prominent roles came in “Victor Victoria” and “Porky’s” and on the TV sitcom “Webster.”
This year, Karras became a lead plaintiff in a complaint against the NFL by ex-players who claim the league didn’t do enough to protect them from head injuries. He had been suffering from dementia and his wife recently said Karras’ quality of life had been made worse because of head injuries sustained during his playing career.
“This physical beating that he took as a football player has impacted his life, and therefore it has impacted his family life,” Susan Clark said earlier this year. “He is interested in making the game of football safer and hoping that other families of retired players will have a healthier and happier retirement.”
Getting your bell run used to be considered just part of the game. Thankfully, though, attitudes are changing as more is learned about the long-term effects of head injuries, particularly concussions.
Earlier this year, the Big Ten Conference joined forces with the Ivy League to study the effects of head injuries, including concussions, by developing a network of sports medicine personnel to coordinate research.
Schools at all levels no longer take concussions lightly.
“People are starting to realize now that those big hits, as great as they used to look on ESPN or whatever highlights, are potentially damaging to a person’s health,” Marv Cook, who coaches football at Regina, told the Press-Citizen this summer. “I think people are starting to understand that it doesn’t need to be a part of the game.”
Cook refers to the three Rs — recognize, remove and recover — when handling concussions for his Regina team.
“Remove them from the field and then get them evaluated and make sure it’s not serious,” Cook said. “And if it is, you’ve got to give them time to recover and give them the necessary time to recover fully.”
We may never know if Karras’ NFL career played a part in his dementia, but while we honor Karras’ life and achievements, we also hope that his legacy serves as a reminder to the NFL, as well as high school and college football programs, to continue striving to better protect players and advance the science of concussion management and treatment.