By Rickey Hampton, Editor and Founder of The African-American Athlete,
With all the debate going on in the National Football League about player’s rights I just wonder what the late John Mackey would have to say? The Hall of Fame tight end for the Baltimore Colts is arguably the game’s greatest player at that position, and an outspoken leader for player’s rights.
On the field there was nothing the 6-foot-2, 225 pounder couldn’t do. He blocked as well as an offensive lineman, had the hands and speed of a wide receiver, and was simply overpowering with the ball in his hands.
The former Syracuse University All-American was the prototype of the tightends we see today. Selected by the Colts in the second round of the 1963 draft, the New York City native flourished in the NFL. He became a favorite target of Hall of Fame quarterback John Unitas.
In his nine seasons in Baltimore Mackey was named to five Pro Bowls (1964, 1966–69). In Super Bowl V he scored on a 75-yd pass reception for a touchdown. He spent his final year in San Diego in 1972. In 10 seasons Mackey caught 331 passes for 5,236-yards, and 38 touchdowns. He averaged a staggering 15.8-yards per reception, a testament to his athleticism. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
However, Mackey’s play on the field is just part of his legacy. He was far more than just a football player, he was a leader of men.
In 1970 he was named the first president of the NFL Players Association. That is a remarkable honor considering the state of race relations in America at that time.
That same year he led a strike that helped players improve their benefit packages from the NFL. Mackey saw that the NFL was on its way to becoming a giant corporate entity, and he wanted to make sure the stars of the show, the players, would not be left out of the bonanza.
In 1972, Mackey led the NFLPA’s federal anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL. It would be the beginning of players moving towards the free agency they enjoy today.
Mackey was a giant for player’s rights throughout his career. Ironically, he suffered from dementia in his later life, and passed away in 2006 at the age of 69. The ’88 Plan’ in the NFL labor agreement is named in honor of Mackey’s number, and pays former players who have dementia up to $88,000 a year in health care benefits.
Click here to see amazing highlights of Mackey in action.