Living with multiple sclerosis (MS) can impact everyday life. But college football player Tyler Campbell’s MS diagnosis didn’t stop him from pursuing the sport and turned into a learning experience for him.

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Alexey Kuzma/Stocksy United

Tyler Campbell’s life radically changed when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) during his junior year of college.

Born in 1986 in Houston, Texas, Tyler had received a football scholarship to attend San Diego State University (SDSU) and was a consistent scholar-athlete. Despite the challenges of living with MS, Tyler continued to play the game.

In fact, he was one of the first athletes to play Division I college football with the condition. He graduated from SDSU in 2009.

Currently, Tyler travels the country as a professional speaker, delivering empowering messages of self-worth. He also hosts his own radio show, Real Lyfe Reel Talk.

To learn more about this inspiring man, we asked Tyler a few questions about how being diagnosed with MS changed his life and what he hopes people can learn from him.

Talk about how it felt playing college football while experiencing MS symptoms (both before and after your diagnosis).

Before MS, football was my sole focus. I was all in on contributing my best to my teammates. I understood the plays when they were called from the sideline without even guessing. I trusted myself to do my part every snap.

After MS came into my life, I noticed that my body wasn’t as strong and when I told it to do certain things — there seemed to be a newfound delay in reaction.

Before the diagnosis, I felt a lot less stressed and free. Suddenly, fatigue became my biggest adversary, and I always felt so tired.

I lacked confidence in myself to do my job, and whenever plays were called, I had to intently focus more than usual to make sure I was reading signals correctly. What had once come naturally became a challenge at every turn.

How did being diagnosed with MS change your relationship with your family?

My family gave me all their support from day one — they knew I didn’t want to be babied, just supported. But they gave me space to have my falls, shed my tears, and rallied around me when needed.

As a former LVN [licensed vocational nurse], my mom had a strong understanding of MS, but it was especially hard on my dad who couldn’t stop thinking that me having the disease was somehow his fault.

Our pedigree as men really shone brightly when he started taking me to physical therapy and participated with me. It was a really special moment; we lived a family slogan out in those moments together that “A Campbell Never Quits.”

What I mean by that is that a lot of men in my family are accustomed to working hard when it comes to their desires. These men are constantly used to overcoming and are willing to step out to do what has never been done so that they may be heroes in the eyes of others.

For example, my great-great-grandfather was among one of the first few African Americans to own land in Smith County in East Texas. My grandfather B. C. Campbell fought in World War II and was present on D-Day with the black Army Air Corps.

Therefore, for me, quitting with MS was never an option. 

What did you learn as an athlete that has helped you through your MS journey?

At some point, my MS started teaching me things about myself. I learned that I was already accustomed to self-sacrifice for the betterment of achieving a goal.

Sports had equally prepped me for the process of getting knocked down. It was natural muscle memory for me to search tirelessly for an avenue to get back up. I live for competition with myself, and nothing about that has changed since getting diagnosed.

I have been on the floor numerous times, but in those moments with MS, I have never counted myself out, just taken a second to gather myself to continue the journey.

What do you most hope people take away from your talks?

I learned that I am someone who can speak openly about where I have faltered, where I have made mistakes, and that I am fighting the fight as an MS patient to be vulnerable.

Man, it is not easy. I just want people to feel my heart with every breath and every word spoken. Prayer and Sunday therapy sessions have helped me tremendously with getting to that place. 

Lastly, I learned to be inspired to say, “That guy, he’s not that special. He is human just like me. If he can, I can too.” As a matter of fact, I can carry the torch farther than anyone could have ever imagined. I want more advocates to emerge after my words fall on their ears.

You recently wrote a book about your experiences, “The Ball Came Out: Life From the Other Side of the Field.” What made you decide to write it?

After embracing these lessons and building connections within the MS community, I had always felt the desire to write a book but could never get the words out.

I know it might sound crazy, but what I mean is that there were parts of my life that I kept hidden and hadn’t yet learned to confront those painful moments.

My faith and therapy helped me open my heart and revisit tough times without worry of judgment. When people read my book, I hope they learn why I approach my disease the way that I do.

As a black man, I treasure the fact that Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) makes it a point to shed light, bring visibility, create awareness, and grant platforms to our community. These attributes make room for more advocates to come to light, which are desperately needed.

MSAA makes it a point to convey that your life is your message, and that message of living a life with MS needs to be heard.

I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to connect with the MSAA in a number of ways and to be chosen and trusted to host their first Virtual Improving Lives Benefit in 2021.

And I am even more excited to be back in 2022 for both the in-person and the virtual events and can’t wait to recognize the great work MSAA has accomplished since we came together last year.

Please note that information on MSAA’s 2023 Improving Lives Benefit can be found here.

Tyler was born October 26, 1986, in Houston, Texas, to football legend Earl Campbell and his wife Reuna. Following in his father’s footsteps, Tyler received a football scholarship to San Diego State University, and after a diagnosis of MS during his junior year, Tyler became the first individual to play Division 1 college football with the disease.

An entrepreneur in his own right, Tyler travels the country as a professional speaker delivering empowering and inspiring messages of self-worth, hosts his own on-air radio show, Real Lyfe Reel Talk, and recently released his first book. Tyler and his wife Shana reside in Texas with their three children.