As highlighted by the previous entry about Wilbur Marshall, scores of ex-NFL players have varying degrees of serious health problems. The late John Mackey is another example of the depressing state of the health of many former players. Mackey, a Hall of Fame tight end and the first players association president after the NFL-AFL merger, died at the age of 69 this year. In his late 50's, Mackey began suffering from dementia which reduced him to "such a childlike state that his wife, Sylvia, had to stop taking him on trips to the grocery store. He would sneak candy bars into his pockets near the register, she’d explain later. His care nearly bankrupted them, and Sylvia returned to work as a flight attendant at age 56 to pay the growing bills."
However, ex-NFL players have taken it upon themselves to help out. For example, the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fun was started by former NFL players. According to the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund website, "The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund is a non-profit, 501(c) (3) corporation, established to provide financial assistance and coordinate social services to dire need retired NFL players who are pioneers of the game and have greatly contributed to the NFL's status as the most popular sport in America.
The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund provides hands-on assistance and financial aid to help retired NFL players deal with some of the hardships they may encounter after football. Many of these players lack funds, disability coverage or pension benefits. Thus the GGAF focuses on the humanitarian side of these players, treating them with dignity, and addressing the post-football related issues in their lives.
The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund Board of Directors includes Mike Ditka, Gale Sayers, Marv Levy, Greg Brown of Motorola and Jimmy Johnson. There is also an advisory committee that includes Shayne Graham, Jason Kyle, Josh Miller, Chris Jacke, Frank Winters, Jim Andrews, Tom Cundy, Jim Marshall, and Joe DeLamielleure."
Hopefully the Gridiron Greats Assistance fund, and other programs like it, become well-funded enough to meet the needs of the NFL's former players. Donations to the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund can be made at this link: http://www.gridirongreats.org/index.htm