The Washington Post

Colts legend John Mackey dies; first NFLPA president fought for NFL health care reform

NFL Hall of Famer John Mackey shows off his Hall of Fame and Super Bowl rings at his Baltimore home in 2007. Mackey died Wednesday at the age of 69. (STEVE RUARK/AP)

The 69-year-old played in Baltimore from 1963-71 and caught a 75-yard touchdown from Johnny Unitas in the Colts’ 1971 Super Bowl victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Mackey later served as the first post-merger president of the NFL Players Association where he was ahead of the curve, pushing for stronger health benefits for ex-players — a key issue in the NFL’s ongoing labor negotiations. In 2006 the NFL ratified the “88 Plan,” named for Mackey’s number, which provides up to $88,000 a year for nursing or day care for former players suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and union executive director DeMaurice Smith took a break from the ongoing NFL lockout and labor proceedings to remember Mackey’s enduring impact on the league.

Said Goodell:

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

Smith said Mackey remains the NFLPA’s leader even today:

“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.”

More on the NFL lockout:

Time running short as NFL talks resume

Full NFL preseason in jeopardy

Full NFL Lockout coverage

The League: The waiting is the hardest part

Matt Brooks is the high school sports editor for The Washington Post. He's an Arlington native and longtime District resident and was previously a high school sports reporter, editor for several blogs and Early Lead contributor with The Post.

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