The “88 Plan”

Written by on May 20, 2019

On the TUNNEYSIDE of SPORTS May 20, 2019, #744 The “88 Plan” After further review… The “88 Plan” was established in 2007 by the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and the NFL Management Council to “provide benefits to certain players suffering from dementia.” 88 was in honor of the former Baltimore Colts tight-end and Profootball HoFer, #88, John Mackey. Unquestionably, he defined the tight-end position.

Mackey was a second-round selection by the Baltimore Colts in the 1963 draft going on to play 9 seasons for the Colts. He was five-time ProBowler and a Super Bowl V champion. Many say Mackey “set-the-bar” for tight-ends. He could block, run excellent routes, catch any ball thrown his way, and, most-of-all was hard to tackle – gaining yardage after the catch (YAC).


“It is difficult to summarize John’s contributions to player advocacy,” says his wife, Sylvia, who wrote in a Baltimore Sun op-ed , “He started his career at a time in history when he was told he couldn’t sleep in the team hotel prior to his first training camp because he was African American. John told the desk clerk he would sleep on the lobby couch until they found him a room – and he did. John understood the importance of striving for fair treatment. He led the fight for free agency, over-turning the ‘Rozelle Rule’ by taking the NFL to court in 1975, and was a central figure in creating the NFLPA we know today.”

John signed his first contract for $17.500 and after nine years was making $35,000. Do those figures sound ridiculous compared to today’s salaries and bonuses? Of course. So, John did as most NFL players did in the 1970s, worked a second job – as a sports commentator. Today’s players can thank John Mackey for the salary and benefits they enjoy today. Yet, while offensive and defensive systems of today may look different, the game is played with the same number of players on each side of the ball, with four downs to gain ten-yards or six-points (TD).

Sadly, Mackey was diagnosed with dementia in 2001 at the age of 59, receiving an NFL pension of $2,500 per month. He died in 2011 living in an assisted facility and suffering with dementia for 10 years. The diminished dignity then is the same today for former players  (called pre-93ers) who still don’t receive health insurance. The 1993 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) set a low, fixed pension for pre-93ers, but no other important retirement benefits.

Today, there is a concentrated effort called Fair for Athletes in Retirement(FAIR) which is solely focused on pension reform for these men, like Mackey, who built the league. If John were alive today, he’d be on the front lines with FAIR, advocating for pension reform in the CBA of the NFLPA headed by President Eric Winston and Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.

Will you support FAIR for pre-93ers who built the NFL?

To contact Jim, go to JimTunney.com or email Jim@JimTunney.com.


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