BALTIMORE — John Mackey, a Hall of Fame tight end and former president of the NFL Players Association who struggled with dementia after his playing career, has died. He was 69.
Chad Steele, a spokesman for the Baltimore Ravens, said Thursday that Mackey's wife notified the team about her husband's death. No official cause was given.
Mackey played for the Baltimore Colts from 1963-71. He also played for the San Diego Chargers in 1972. He caught 331 passes for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns in a 10-season career after coming out of Ohio State.
An NFL labor agreement ratified in 2006 includes the so-called "88 Plan," named for Mackey's number, 88. It provides up to $88,000 a year for nursing care or day care for ex-players with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, or $50,000 for 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."
The health care of former players has become a prominent issue in the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. An NFL lockout has been ongoing since March.
"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."