NFL Mental Health Crusader, Colts Legend John Mackey Dies


John Mackey, one of the more instrumental figures in establishing rules and regulations for NFL player safety, died at age 69. The news came via Baltimore Ravens spokesman Chad Steele on Thursday. No cause of death was provided.

Mackey experienced a plentiful and highly regarded career as a Hall of Fame tight end for the Baltimore Colts during his playing days, only to become a union president striving to make changes in his later years. Despite his struggles with dementia throughout the various parts of his life, Mackey’s legacy is that of a crusader for stronger health benefits of retired players and increased mental health awareness.

As a member of the Colts from 1963-1971, he helped lead the team to a monumental victory versus the Dallas Cowboys in the ’71 Super Bowl. It was his 75-yard touch reception from Johnny Unitas that continues to be regarded as the key to the team’s eventual championship. Mackey ended his 10-year career with 331 catches for a total of 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns.

Even more important than his accomplishments on the field, though, were Mackey’s contributions off of it. The “88 Plan,” named for Mackey’s jersey number, was ratified in 2006 and provides up to $88,000 per year for nursing car or day care of ex-NFL players with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The deal also allows for $50,000 contributions towards home care.

“John Mackey is still our leader. As the president of the NFLPA, he led the fight for fairness with a brilliance and with ferocious drive,” union executive director DeMaurice Smith said. “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.”

As tenuous as relations are on both sides of the current NFL lockout, everyone agreed on Mackey’s role in league-wide affairs.

“John Mackey was one of the great leaders in NFL history, on and off the field,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “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. 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.”

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