June 9, 2023


stressful sport

UC Berkeley football legend Geoff McArthur has cancer

4 min read

Geoff McArthur sits in a hospital room inside USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

It’s Monday. He sounds tired. More tired than he ever sounded after any of the 51 games he played for the Cal football team between 2000 and 2003, after which he left the Golden Bears as their all-time leading receiver with 3,188 career receiving yards.

McArthur — Aaron Rodgers’ top target during Rodgers’ two seasons in Berkeley — has non-Hodgkin diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a treatable cancer with a 64% chance of a 5-year relative survival rate (meaning 64% of people with this type of lymphoma live as long over the ensuing five years as people without cancer). The cancer has already spread to his neck, chest and abdomen, and doctors have been prodding, scanning and poking him with needles since May 20 — when he was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed — to see if it’s spread to his brain and spine.

McArthur already had his first round of chemotherapy and has more scheduled from now all the way until September. And that’s going to be expensive, especially because McArthur is in between jobs — he recently resigned as the head football coach at St. Monica Catholic High School in Santa Monica and accepted a position as the wide receivers coach at national high school football powerhouse St. John Bosco, something he describes as a “dream job.”

Thanks to a broken-for-many American health care system where health care is tied to your employment, McArthur has been forced to abruptly crowdfund his mounting medical bills. In less than 48 hours, he’s already raised more than $70,000 on a GoFundMe, with a list of donors that you could easily mistake for an early 2000s Cal roster sheet. From J.J. Arrington and Steve Levy (who left a note with his donation: “The Bear will not Quit, The Bear will not die. Love you #6”), to Langston Walker and Brian de la Puente, his former teammates jumped at the chance to be there for McArthur both financially and emotionally.

“I kept it to myself at first, I didn’t want people to know, because what can someone really do for you? They can wish you well, say they’re praying for you, but there’s not really a thing anyone can do. I didn’t want it to be a big deal. But at the same time, I got to a point where I realized I can’t do this alone,” McArthur told SFGATE via phone on Monday. “The first people I told were my girlfriend, my mom, my brother, then it was some of my Cal teammates.”

Current Cal receivers coach Burl Toler and NFL wideout DeSean Jackson were some of the first people to know. Then McArthur told Tosh Lupoi and Chase Lyman. A Cal football support group broke out, featuring Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

“That’s the cool thing about the bond we had in 2003, 2004,” Rodgers told SFGATE via phone. “There’s a shared connection through putting your body on the line, it allows guys to bond at a deeper level. The thing that really strikes me is we’ve gotten older together, many of us are close to 40. That was like half my life ago when I was at Cal. There’s been some tragedy along the way, some deaths, some cancers and diseases, and it’s tough, but I think the good thing about those guys is a lot of us keep in touch. It’s a great support system. That’s what [Cal head] coach [Jeff] Tedford instilled in us. 

“It was so special going to Cal those two years, to be part of such a connected team and see what real chemistry looks like — that doesn’t stop when you’re done playing.”

And while an injury-riddled career kept McArthur from pursuing his NFL dreams, he’s never given up football. He’s coached all over Southern California, plus even did a five-year stint in Canada, before finally landing the coveted assistant role at Bosco.

And in true McArthur fashion, he’s intent on spending his hospital downtime — however long it lasts — preparing for the first game of the season, an Aug. 26 affair in Allen, Texas.

“I’m going to get my playbook and watch film and make sure I got my receivers well taken care of,” he said. 

In the meantime, his Cal support system is committed to making sure he’s taken care of.

“We look to each other for support,” Toler told SFGATE. “I know how hard it is for him to say anything about anything, but as soon as he shared the news, from there it’s, ‘What’s the plan of action?’  He knows how to do it all and he can do it all, but situations like these call for more people to get involved.”

Sure enough, more and more Cal football greats have surfaced to help out: Toler and McArthur also mentioned Marshawn Lynch, Andre Carter and Tully Banta-Cain. 

“Geoff is a really good human, was a great teammate and I think everyone loved him,” Rodgers said.

That appreciation has followed McArthur through his career as both a player and a coach, as evidenced by the multitude of givers, which included one anonymous $25,000 donation — more than a third of all the money raised.

“You’d like our health care system to not care who you work for, how long you work there,” Toler said. “In a situation like cancer, there doesn’t need to be a waiting period on status or income or job title or anything, it just needs to be handled. It’s definitely frustrating, but there’s nothing to do about it today. I’m just grateful Geoff has impacted that many people. Sometimes when you need help you need to swallow your pride and ask for help, and everyone wants to give to him because he’s given so much in the past.”

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