John Mackey, formerly of the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Colts, died on Wednesday. The 69 year Hall of Fame tight end had suffered from dementia for years.
Many people won't recognize the name John Mackey. He didn't play one of the glamor positions and wasn't all over the newspaper. What John Mackey did do, what he will be recognized most for, is revolutionizing the tight end position. Before Mackey, a tight end was an extra blocker who occasionally caught a dump off pass but Mackey showed the league that a tight end could be more, both a blocker and a receiver, and it eventually earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame.
"Previous to John, tight ends were big strong guys like [Mike] Ditka and [Ron] Kramer who would block and catch short passes over the middle," former Colts coach and fellow Hall of Famer Don Shula said, according to The Sun. "Mackey gave us a tight end who weighed 230, ran a 4.6 and could catch the bomb. It was a weapon other teams didn't have."
For his 10 year playing career, Mackey caught 331 passes for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns. He was also the president of the NFL Players Association after the AFL-NFL merger and fought to improve players' pension benefits and access to free agency.
"He was a Hall of Fame player who redefined the tight end position. He was a courageous advocate for his fellow NFL players as head of the NFL Players Association," Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "He worked closely with our office on many issues through the years, including serving as the first president of the NFL Youth Football Fund. He never stopped fighting the good fight. Our thoughts are with Sylvia and the Mackey family on the loss of our good friend."
Mackey loved the game that made him one of its greatest back in 1992 when he was enshrined in the Hall, but it may have been that same game that eventually led to his death. He suffered from frontotemporal dementia in later years that is believed to have been caused by the contact associated with playing football. Four years ago, the dementia forced Mackey into living in an assisted-living facility. But the cost of his care well exceeded his pension of less than $2,500 a month.
But even in this was he able to help improve the NFL as because of his plight, both the NFL and the Players union established a new plan that provides for nursing home care and adult day care for retired players suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease. They named it the "88 Plan", named after his uniform number.
Mackey was a visionary and a leader on and off the field. He was a shining example of what all modern athletes should strive to be and each one of these guys need to give thanks for the work Mackey did to ensure the rights they have today when it comes to free agency. Without him, many players wouldn't be in the positive financial situation they are in.
We were a fractured group until John began putting permanence in [the union's] day-to-day operations," said teammate and former union president Ordell Braase, according to The Sun. "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."
Photo Credit – AP