Field of Dreams

Tyler Campbell, 25, son of football legend Earl Campbell, once planned to follow in his father’s athletic footsteps. But one day, that plan changed in an instant.

The first time I played football as a boy, I knew I wanted to one day be in the NFL. As I entered college, I received a football scholarship from San Diego State University. During my junior year in 2007, our team played the last game of the season. The following Sunday, I woke up to something I’d never experienced: I couldn’t move my limbs.

I attempted to get out of bed and walk to the bathroom, but I fell straight to the floor. I knew I needed to go in and see the team’s trainers. I was sure it was something they could quickly resolve. All I had on my mind was passing my finals and going home to Austin, Texas, for Christmas break. My housemate, who was also on the football team, helped me to my feet, dragged my 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound body to the car, and drove me to the training center on campus. There, after I failed a series of motor skills tests, the trainers sent me to a neurologist.

The neurologist ran more tests and eventually gave me his diagnosis: “You have multiple sclerosis [MS].” MS is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system; lesions form on the brain and affect the motor skills. No one in my family has the disease; however, there’s no evidence that MS is directly inherited. For most people, the disease isn’t fatal, but there also isn’t a known cure. When the doctor confirmed my diagnosis, I was nervous about one thing: My football dream would be taken away from me.

Following an MRI, the doctor put me on medication. Even as I studied for my finals, the symptoms of MS were there. My speech became slurred, I stuttered, my handwriting was less decipherable, and I couldn’t comprehend everything I read. After the first round of meds, my functioning began returning to normal; the doctors told me that if I did well on the medication, I could continue playing football. I was relieved when I passed all my finals, and I flew to Austin feeling just fine.

The following season, I was able to play football without a single episode. Then just before the NFL scouts began recruiting in spring 2009, I became ill again, and this time, it took much longer for me to recover. Doctors finally gave me the news I’d feared: I had to give up football.

While I was in the hospital, I had a lot of time to think and ask God why this was happening. “You’re strong enough to deal with this disease,” Mom told me when she came to visit. “God never gives us more than we can handle.” At first, I didn’t want to hear it. But over time, as I read Scripture, I realized she was right: I could overcome this.

MS didn’t stop me from pursuing my other goals: I completed a degree in business management. Three years ago, I went public with my diagnosis by volunteering at a charity bike ride for the National MS Society. My dad joined me in giving a newspaper interview. Once the word was out, people were surprised and inspired that I’d continued playing football for a year while living with MS. It was then that I realized I had an opportunity. I could share my story as a way to touch people and to raise awareness about a disease that affects approximately 400,000 Americans. Through the National MS Society, I’m now an ambassador for those who are battling this disease.

I’m feeling more hopeful now than ever. Last September, I married my best friend, Shana. We’re looking toward the future and planning to have children. As I settle into my marriage, I’m also working toward helping to find an MS cure by raising funds for research. In 10 years, I pray that MS no longer exists. I also hold onto what I learned on the football field: Adversity comes every day, and we can either fall victim to that adversity, or we can prevail. We always have a choice.  

To read more, pick up the March issue of EBONY on stands now!