Hall of Fame Tight End and Union Pioneer John Mackey (1941-2011)


by Matthew Allinson 07-08-2011 01:56 AM

 

"He was a great playerin my estimations, one of the greatest players ever at the tight end position. He was a leader on and off the field. Heading up the NFL Players Association, he was able to get benefits we didn't have and for future players. He had a wonderful family. His wife and children were his inspiration and took care of him later in life. Sylvia Mackey is one of the classiest individuals that I have ever met in my life and should be a spokesperson for all retired players' wives."

--Tom Matte, former Baltimore Colts running back (1961-72), AccessAthletes.com

Thursday was a sad day, as legendary Baltimore Colts tight end and Super Bowl champion John Mackey died at age 69 after an extended battle with frontotemporal dementia. The Hall of Fame tight end who played for the Colts from 1963-71 finished his 10-year career with 331 catches for 5,236 yards and 38 TDs. Not only did Mackey revolutionize the tight end position, he championed players' rights as the first President of the NFL Players Association from 1969-73 following the 1970 NFL-AFL merger and paved the way for many of the benefits current NFL players enjoy today.

During his historic tenure at the helm of the NFLPA, the first sports union recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, he organized the first NFL strike in 1970 that reportedly led to an additional $11 million in pension and benefits for the players, won an antitrust lawsuit that ended the "Rozelle Rule" and established a legal precedent that would ultimately lead to true free agency, and he fought to improve salaries, benefits, and player safety.

"John Mackey is still our leader," NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said. "As the President of the NFL Players Association, he led the fight for fairness with a brilliance and ferocious drive. His passion continues to define our organization and inspire our players. His unwavering loyalty to our mission and his exemplary courage will never be forgotten."

"He was the right man at the right time," former Colts teammate Ordell Braase told the Baltimore Sun. "We were a fractured group until John began putting permanence in [the union's] day-to-day operations. He hired administrators and a general counsel. He had a vision for that job, which was more than just putting in time and keeping the natives calm. You don't get anything unless you really rattle the cage."

Unfortunately, his union activism also reportedly came with consequences, as he was traded to San Diego and forced into retirement in 1972, and then had to wait 20 years to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

Mackey's plight with dementia in the later years of his life put the controversies regarding the lack of benefits for the NFL's forgotten legends, as well as the causal link between contact associated with playing football and brain injuries at the forefront as two of the NFL's most hotly-contested issues. Spending his last four years in an assisted-living facility, the cost of Mackey's care far exceeded his pension of less than $2,500 a month. His story eventually led the league and the players' union to establish the "88 Plan"—named after his uniform number—providing $88,000 a year for nursing home care and up to $50,000 annually for adult day care for retired players suffering from brain damage.

In 2010, Sylvia Mackey, pledged to donate her husband's brain upon his death to a Boston University School of Medicine study of brain damage in athletes.

All current players should pay homage to Mackey's legacy. I hope that both parties (management and the union) in the current labor dispute will honor his memory by working to continue to improve the benefits for retired players, as well as protections for today's players.

Mackey is survived by his wife, Sylvia, a son, two daughters and six grandchildren.

Be sure to check out the NFL's Top 100 Players Video and the two great reads about Mackey by journalists Dave Zirin and Rick Maese below.

NFL's Top 100 Players Video: John Mackey

John Mackey: The Death of a Football and Union Legend

NFL neglect of Mackey belongs in hall of shame


Published 07-07-2011 © 2019 Access Athletes, LLC


Disclaimer:

Access Athletes, LLC owns the exclusive copyright to all information contained within the articles posted on The Real Athlete Blog. All information is for the End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed, or otherwise used for commercial purposes without the expressed consent of Access Athletes, LLC. The information is an educational aid only and it is not intended as and nor shall it be construed as legal, medical, financial, psychological or other professional advice or treatment for individual situations, conditions, or predicaments. The information provided in The Real Athlete Blog articles shall not constitute an attorney-client, doctor-patient, psychologist-patient relationship or any other professional-client relationship for that matter. The End User shall seek the advice or treatment of his or her own qualified licensed professional(s) and the End User shall not rely on the information contained herein as such. End Users who leave comments on the Blog articles or email the contributors personally shall have no expectation of privilege or confidentiality. Additionally, we strongly recommend that you consult your doctor, nurse, nutritionist or pharmacist before following any of our workout or nutrition regimens to ensure that it is safe and effective for you.

Access Athletes, LLC makes no representation or warranties as to the information, opinions, or other services or data you may access, download or use as a result of accessing The Real Athlete Blog. All implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose or use are hereby excluded. Access Athletes, LLC does not assume any responsibility for your use of or reliance on any of the information provided by The Real Athlete Blog.