It’s been a sad day for the people of Baltimore and those in the NFL and the NFLPA today, as former Baltimore Colts TE John Mackey has died at the age of 69. Along with making his name as one of the best tight ends in the league’s history, he also was the first president of the NFLPA.
According to his former coach, Don Shula, Mackey helped innovate his position.
"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," Shula told the Baltimore 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.”
After he was elected to the Pro Football HOF in 1992, he refused to accept his ring in Indianapolis, where the Colts had relocated. He said he wanted the ceremony to take place in Baltimore, and eventually, he got his wish.
But he also didn’t get in to the HOF until his 15th and final year on the ballot, and some believe that’s because of his involvement with the NFLPA.
More from the Sun:
As the union's first president after the 1970 merger of the NFL and American Football League, Mackey quickly raised the owners' ire. That July, he organized a three-day strike that won the players $11 million in pensions and benefits. In 1972, he filed and eventually won a landmark antitrust suit that brought them free agency. (The union bargained it away in 1977.)
"He was the right man at the right time," said (Ordell) Braase, who preceded Mackey as head of the player's association. "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."
Here’s what NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith had to say in a statement: "John Mackey is still our leader. 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."
(FYI, the person speaking in the video below is Michael Gibbons, the executive director of the Sports Legends Museum in Baltimore.)
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