John Mackey, NFL Hall-of-Fame End, Union Leader, Dies at 69

John Mackey, NFL Hall-of-Fame End, Union Leader
Mackey served as president of the National Football League Players Association where he fought to give players more rights as free agents. Photo: Pro Football Hall of Fame via Bloomberg

July 7 (Bloomberg) -- John Mackey, a Hall-of-Fame tight end for the Baltimore Colts who served as president of the National Football League Players Association, has died. He was 69.

Mackey died yesterday, Chad Steele, a spokesman for the Baltimore Ravens, confirmed in an e-mail. Details weren’t immediately available. Mackey had battled dementia, according to the NFLPA.

One of the first tight ends with the speed to run deep pass routes, Mackey had 331 catches for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns while playing nine seasons for the Colts and one with the San Diego Chargers. In Super Bowl V, in 1971, Mackey helped the Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys by catching a pass from Johnny Unitas that had been deflected off two other players for a 75-yard touchdown.

Sports Illustrated in 2010 ranked Mackey the third-best tight end in NFL history, behind only Mike Ditka and Tony Gonzalez. Mackey and Ditka “broke the mold of the tight end as a sixth offensive lineman,” the magazine wrote. “Mackey might be the greatest downfield tight end ever.”

A native of New York who played college football at Syracuse University, Mackey was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992, the second tight end to gain induction.

As president of the players’ union in the early 1970s, he fought to give players more rights as free agents. He brought a successful antitrust challenge to a league rule that had required teams that signed a free agent to compensate that player’s former employer.

“John Mackey is still a leader,” players association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said in a Twitter post. “As president of the NFLPA, he led the fight for fairness with brilliance and ferocious drive. John Mackey has inspired me and will continue to inspire our players and define our institution. He will be missed but never forgotten.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net