Seizing opportunities is nothing new for William Mackall (Martin ’90). The UT Martin Hall of Fame football player and award-winning undercover police officer was ready to answer the call when he came upon a man who was choking.
Mackall, 40, was raised in Panama City, Florida, where he played several high-school sports and eventually caught the eye of college football recruiters. During recruiting contacts, he remembers his mother, Lucille, sitting to the side and nodding her head yes each time an offer came his way. Mackall was never sure if she understood everything discussed, but one thing was certain–she didn’t want her son to pass up opportunities.
He chose to attend UT Martin, where he became a record-breaking pass receiver and a member of the 1988 Gulf South Conference Tri-Championship team. Following a professional football career abbreviated by injuries, Mackall decided to use his criminal justice degree by pursuing his other passion, law enforcement. He joined the Metro Nashville Police Department in 1992 as a patrol officer and later became a narcotics investigator. Promoted to lieutenant in 2006, he now supervises six sergeants and 37 officers in the department’s large North Precinct. He and a fellow officer became the first African American officers promoted to lieutenant since 1998.
Mackall’s many life experiences prepared him for an opportunity of a different sort in 2005 while he was still working undercover. He was driving one day in an unmarked police car with the windows down when he heard a woman yelling. He recognized the woman, who was parked off the street in a van, and saw that she was beating an elderly man on the back with her hand. Glancing in his rearview mirror, Mackall saw the man collapse. Mackall stopped his car and sprinted to the van, where he saw that the man was choking. The officer immediately began doing the Heimlich maneuver, but instead of expelling the food, the man turned blue and went limp. Even though Mackall was in excellent physical shape, the man’s dead weight made it extremely difficult to hold him upright and at the same time perform the life-saving procedure. Fortunately another woman stopped to help.
“I asked them [the two women] to help me hold him up while I applied the Heimlich maneuver,” Mackall recalls. “And slowly the food just started coming back out of his mouth.” The man had choked on a sandwich, but he regained consciousness and started breathing before medical help arrived. Mackall was so touched by the incident that he compares saving the man’s life to the feeling he had at the births of his two children. His heroics were honored when he received the police department’s Lifesaving Award in 2006.
The 15-year police department veteran doesn’t take credit for his awards and accomplishments, much less saving a man’s life. “I thank God for giving me the strength and the courage to do the things I do,” he says. And, although his mother knows little about his achievements, she would surely nod her head with approval. Her son has seized another of life’s opportunities.