Former NFL Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey died last week of frontotemporal dementia, a condition thought to be brought on by repeated blows to the head associated with playing football. He was 69. Former Bears running back Gale Sayers was one of Mackey's NFL contemporaries, and on Monday, he criticized the NFL and its players for not doing enough to help Mackey.
"You know, John Mackey died at 60-something (69)," said Sayers, according to the Chicago Tribune. "(The NFL) could have helped him more, I felt. But they didn’t, and the players (NFLPA) could have helped more, and it didn’t happen. …
"There is no question that the game wouldn’t be a game if it wouldn’t have been for those people who played in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s and ‘60s. The players today are on our shoulders. They think they made the game the way it is today. And they didn’t."
According to the Tribune, Mackey was the first NFLPA president and organized a strike that helped earn the players $11 million for pensions and benefits. He also made less than $500,000 during his 10-year playing career, and his had to wife work as a flight attendant to supplement his $2,500 monthly NFL pension to help pay his medical bills.
Several years ago, the NFLPA initially refused to pay Mackey's disability income because at the time there was no direct link between brain injuries and playing football. The NFL and the NFLPA eventually agreed to provide Mackey with $88,000 a year in nursing home care and up to $50,000 in adult day care, the Tribune reports. Still, Sayers thinks more could have been done.
"The (pioneers of the game) played for $5,000 a year, or $10,000 or $15,000,"he said. "They played for that much money so that these players got $10 million or $20 million a year. Today's players think they did it by themselves. It’s unbelievable how they could think and feel that way."