Q&A: Greg Olsen on Tight End U., Son’s Medical Journey, and Broadcasting Future

Greg Olsen spent 14 seasons in the NFL with the Bears, Panthers, and Seahawks before retiring in 2021. The former tight end was a three-time Pro Bowler who helped Carolina to Super Bowl 50 in 2016.

After retiring, Olsen joined Fox Sports as a full-time broadcaster. Recently, Olsen teamed up with NFLers Travis Kelce and George Kittle to form Tight End University, a summit of top tight ends that will be held June 23-25 in Nashville.

Olsen also shared the story of his 8-year-old son, TJ, who underwent a heart transplant on June 4. On Wednesday, TJ was released from the hospital.

Sports Section sat down with Olsen to talk about his son’s journey, Tight End University, his playing days, his future, and more.

SPORTS SECTION: First off, how is your son?
OLSEN: He’s actually doing pretty good. He’s making good progress, but he’s got a long road ahead of him. The recovery from these takes a good six months or so, to really get back on your feet. But all the big stuff that they worry about — all the early signs of that — have gone really well.

How gratifying has the outpouring of support been?
It’s just been remarkable. We’ve always been willing to share T.J.’s story from the very beginning because it shines such a light onto what these kids go through. For a lot of people who thankfully haven’t ever seen it up close, it’s jarring.

We’ve always tried to use our platform to raise that awareness. We’re just super-thankful that people have responded, and the support and love that the community has shown us across the country has been super-humbling. It’s meant a lot to our family and kept us going when things were tough.

Just to know that he’s out there inspiring a lot of people through his journey — that’s why we share.

Is that why it’s been so important to you to be so open about it?
I just believe that to share our vulnerabilities and struggles is what people need to hear. It’s easy on Instagram and social media and during radio interviews to talk about all the great things about your career and touchdowns and all the good stuff. Everyone loves to share their highs, right? But not everyone wants to share their lows.

I think it kind of humanizes a lot of it and gives people a reality that, “Hey, there are people out there struggling just like me. Here’s a guy with a platform who has the opportunity to reach a lot of people, and he’s willing to share his story so I don’t feel quite alone.”

How did you get involved in Tight End U?
It kind of came up organically. This offseason I was texting with Travis Kelce and George Kittle after I retired, and they were asking what I was doing, and George said I should come down to Nashville and work out and meet with them.

George has about five or six NFL tight ends that all live down there and train together so I said, “Yeah, I would love to.”

One thing led to another, and we brought Travis in and said, ‘“Why don’t we really try to make this something that’s not just impromptu and informal? Why don’t we really try to put some structure behind this and build it out?”

That conversation has led to this thing taking off wilder than we ever imagined.

We’ve got over 50 guys committed to coming down to Nashville for about two-and-a-half days, and we’re going to do a mix of field work, a lot of film study, conversations, sharing stories, and sharing perspectives.

There are rookies who’ve never played a down, and then there are guys who have played 15-plus years. We have a lot of experience and a lot of different stages of careers being represented at this. It’s going to be a pretty unique and fun event.

You’ve lined up some impressive sponsors for TEU, including Charmin, Bud Light, Levis, Bridgestone, and BODYARMOR Sports Drink and the proceeds are going to charity. How important is the charitable aspect of it to you?
When we started this, we said, “What kind of experience can we give these guys, getting them to Nashville and putting them up and giving them a fun experience aside from just the football component?” There are only so many hours in the day that you can make a guy run routes and watch film. What else are we going to do to kind of build the camaraderie of the tight end position?

A lot of that stuff is expensive and takes some resources. The sponsor response we got was just incredible, with BodyArmor at the top of the list. It’s just allowed us to bring a lot more unique experiences for these guys over these three days.

The charitable component with Bridgestone being down in Nashville, we just thought it was super-important. If we’re going to bring all these guys from the NFL down to a city, how can we really connect with the host city? Bridgestone is really connected there with the Boys & Girls Clubs, so we’re going to have some of their kids out for part of the camp.

How excited will you be to host the kids and help other charities?
That part probably will be the highlight of the day — the fact that we can host 50 or so kids from the local community and let them come out and run around and rub shoulders with some of the most recognizable and prolific players in the NFL.

It just creates such a unique, homegrown community connection. That’s kind of the central theme of this entire event: the culture of the tight end position, the camaraderie, and the kind of fellowship of the group in one location.

And now how do we bring in the community? How do we tie in to the local companies that support and build up the community? A lot of this just kind of organically came together from just the casual conversation, and to see it now grow into such a multifaceted, three-day event has been really special.

Will you be tempted to put the pads on?
Um, no. They were like, “Bring your cleats,” and I said, “I’m going to bring my cleats, but by no means am I in competition shape.” I’ve done a lot of sitting around and eating and coaching youth sports and having pizza and beer, so I’m by no means ready to go out there and run around like I used to.

But I told them I’m in good enough shape that I can demo, I can be out on the field and working different stuff, but you’re not going to see me run full-speed routes.

Was the decision to retire from the NFL at 35 difficult?
To be honest, it was pretty easy. I would say toward the end of last season I still enjoyed it, I felt great going into the season physically, I didn’t feel like I was past it in that regard. But moving my family across the country to a new city in a pandemic was a tough experience. It was a tough year. Then I got injured, and trying to adjust at that stage of my career to a new team, to a new way of doing things was tough. It took a lot out of me mentally and physically.

Then there was a point where I just said, “When is enough enough?” I feel really confident in my career and what I was able to accomplish. There’s not one thing that I regret. There’s not one thing that I look back on and say, “Man, I wish it would have gone differently.”

Obviously, I wish we would have won that Super Bowl [50], but it wasn’t in the cards. Aside from that, I feel really good about what I was able to do both from a production standpoint and a longevity standpoint. I have nothing else to prove.

It was time for me to be home with my kids, time for me to be around more, to coach their sports and just be Dad for a little while.

With everything that’s gone on these last few weeks, the timing of it was just incredible. The idea that I was able to be around 24 hours a day and try to handle how we were going to get through this tough situation just gave me more clarity that it was the right decision.

What’s your fondest memory of playing in the NFL?
It’s just missing the guys, missing the locker room, getting ready for practice, what that locker room is like after a big win or the flight home after a big win. That’s the kind of stuff you just can’t ever duplicate. I’ve made such incredible relationships and friends with various coaches and players, people I hear from on a daily or weekly basis.

I think that’s the stuff that you take away the most. I was fortunate to play in a lot of big games and catch a lot of passes and score a lot of touchdowns. I was fortunate to do all that stuff, but the people and the relationships and the memories in that regard are really what I’ve taken in my very short stint so far in retirement.

How are you enjoying broadcasting?
It’s something that I’ve had a lot of opportunities to dive into over the past couple of years while I was still an active player. The opportunity to work with Fox and their crews was just an opportunity too good to pass up. We’ve had a lot of conversations over the last couple of years about when the time would be right. The stars kind of aligned, and I felt like this was the right year to kind of make the transition, and working with them in the past has been a joy — both doing the studio stuff and then obviously having the chance to call a couple of NFL games — and then the XFL package last year.

I’ve got some good, meaningful reps under my belt and I’ve really enjoyed working with the entire group, and we just felt like if I was going to do the TV role, that was the right fit and the right group to do it with.

It’s a while off, but what happens this season in the NFL?
I think a lot depends on what happens when things get in training camp. You see what a difference one move makes. You got to see what goes on in Green Bay. Does Aaron Rodgers show up there? And if he does and everybody’s happy, you always have to keep them in the mix.

But all of a sudden if you take him off the team and now the entire NFC kind of gets flipped and one of the perennial contenders is now … you have to imagine unless (Jordan) Love is just really good, it’s hard to replace the MVP.

Then you’re always going to have the usual suspects. I expect San Francisco to bounce back. I think they have a shot to be really good. They just had terrible luck with their injuries last year. With their defensive line, I think they’ve got a chance to be good.

I think the Rams are going to be good. I think Matt Stafford is going to be an upgrade for them. He’s super-talented and really dynamic, to go along with that group.

And then, of course, you have Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. The thing about the NFL is, the good teams are pretty much always going to be good if they have their quarterback. And then there will be a surprise or two every year.

Chris Kuc is a sportswriter who covered a myriad of sports during his career with the Chicago Tribune, The Athletic, and the Chicago Blackhawks before joining Sports Section. You can reach out to Chris at Chris.Kuc@thesportssection.com or on Twitter: @ChrisKuc.