Le'Veon Bell lives his life the way he played running back. Instead of being the prototype back, Bell ran with a unique style that helped him become the NFL's best running back. Bell's unique outlook on life has led to him purse non-football passions that include boxing and music.
Bell, 31, has also taken a unique approach to social media. He's teamed up with OnlyFans, a social media platform that has allowed him to have more positive and more up-close interactions with his fans.
"I'm able to post clips that I wouldn't want to post publicly," Bell said during an interview with CBS Sports. "I can keep it private and allow my fans to tap in with me and see my sparring footage, my workout regiment, my diet, and in general a closer insight of me and who I am. It's a great opportunity. It might even get to the point where I'm breaking down footage and stuff like that."
Bell keeps a busy schedule. Along with boxing, Bell is releasing a new single on July 28 and is currently slated to perform in Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 1. But while he is pursuing his other passions, the former All-Pro running back has not closed the door on an NFL comeback.
"I don't even want to say that I'm done, because I didn't officially retire," Bell said. "If I get a call and it's feeling good, I'm gone."
Bell was one of the NFL's top players from 2014-17. During that span, he was named to three Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro in 2014 and in 2016. He was also named the Steelers' MVP both of those years while helping Pittsburgh win three division titles over that span.
He is the owner of several franchise records that include the most all-purpose yards for a single season (2,215 yards), the most receptions by a running back in one season (85), and the most rushing yards in both a regular-season and postseason game. In the process, Bell made good on a prediction he made roughly 20 years earlier.
"I was 6 years old and I was telling my aunt in the camera, 'I'm going to the NFL. I'm going to be the best running back in the NFL,'" Bell recalled. "Where I'm from, nobody is going to the NFL. What makes people believe it is when they actually see it. … Nobody could have believed it if I didn't believe it."
How did Bell get that believe in himself at such a young age? During his first year of organized football, a then 4-year-old Bell was put on the offensive line by his coach, who also happened to be his uncle. That's where the seed was initially planted.
"I was blocking for my cousins," Bell said with a laugh. "The next year, now I'm getting the ball and it was fun to me and I was good at it. Fast forward to age 6, now I feel confident in myself. I'm nonstop outside playing football all the time. I'm confident in myself saying I'm going to one day be the best running back in the NFL. I see (that confidence) with my kids now."
That confidence led to Bell excelling at Groveport Madison High School, then at Michigan State, and then ultimately with the Steelers, who selected him with the 48th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Bell was part of an offense in Pittsburgh that was dubbed the "Killer B's" that also featured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Four of Roethlisberger's six career Pro Bowl berths were earned during that span. Brown, a former sixth-round pick, blossomed into the league's top receiver while playing alongside Bell and Roethlisberger.
"Everything was just clicking," Bell said of Pittsburgh's offense during that time. "The run set up the passing game with AB, Martavis Bryant on the outside side, Markus Wheaton. We were loaded. As a defense, you had to pick your poison."
The Steelers of that time also possessed one of the NFL's top offensive lines that included nine-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, six-time Pro Bowl right guard David DeCastro, two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, and longtime starters Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert. The offense also featured Pro Bowl fullback Roosevelt Nix, a fellow Columbus-area native who played against Bell in high school.
The unit provided sterling protection for Roethlisberger. It also worked in concert with Bell while complementing a running style that was predicated on patience.
"We had a good chemistry in Pittsburgh," Bell said. "Me, the O-line and Rosie, we hung out all the time. My running style was so different. I think differently than a lot of people when they run the ball. My offensive linemen understood that. They always knew that, as long as they were in front of me, they're winning. Defenders don't want to pick a side, so naturally, the offensive line would slowly be pushing them back, and before you know it, I had four yards before I was even touched. And that was the chemistry we had."
Unfortunately for Bell and his teammates, the Steelers weren't able to parlay that run into Super Bowls. Pittsburgh lost to Baltimore in the 2014 AFC wild card round in a game that Bell didn't play in after suffering a knee injury the previous week against the Bengals. In 2015, the Steelers nearly upset the eventual champion Broncos in the divisional round despite Bell, Brown, and fellow running back DeAngelo Williams out with injuries.
The 2016 season didn't start well, with Bryant out with a yearlong suspension and Bell missing the season's first four games on suspension. Pittsburgh started 4-5 before winning nine straight games that culminated with a trip to the AFC title game. The main reason behind the winning streak was Bell, who had seven 100-yard rushing games during that span that included a franchise single-game record 236 yards in a win over the Bills.
Bell carried that momentum into the playoffs. He rushed for 167 yards (breaking Franco Harris' postseason franchise single-game record set in Super Bowl IX) in Pittsburgh's 30-13 win over the Dolphins in the wild card round. A week later, facing the Chiefs in Arrowhead, Bell ran for 170 yards while propelling Pittsburgh to an 18-16 win over the Chiefs.
Bell's success in those games was done despite playing through an injury that was sustained late in the regular season. The injury, however, reared its ugly head early in the AFC Championship Game. In fact, Bell aggravated the injury on his first carry, and was out of the game after the first quarter.
"The game plan was resolved so much around me," Bell said. "New England's outside rushers would peel and guard me like receiver. So our game plan was to kill them the whole game with me running routes out of the backfield. All of that had to go out of the game plan as soon as I went down. The majority of the game plan is out the window now."
Without Bell, the Steelers failed to keep pace with the Patriots, who would go on to win their fifth Super Bowl. Bell was unable to hide his disappointment during his three quarters on the bench, as his team fell farther and farther behind.
"We started being super pass-heavy," Bell recalled. "All that year, Ben had crazy games. So even when I got hurt, everyone was so confident.
"What I should have done a better job of, I shouldn't have showed my teammates that I'm hurt and I'm not coming back in. I think my teammates saw (the disappointment) in my face and my demeanor, and I think that hurt the energy of the team. It wasn't on purpose, I was just so down that I couldn't be playing with y'all."
While the end of the 2016 season was a disappointment, many Steelers fans felt that 2017 would be a special season. That feeling was reinforced when Pittsburgh signed former Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden when Haden was waived by Cleveland just before the start of the regular season. Steelers fans were also anticipating big contributions from rookies T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner.
The Steelers' newcomers didn't disappoint, and despite Bell sitting out camp over his contract, expectations were high. The Steelers started 3-2 (that included an ugly home loss to the Jaguars) but would lose just one more game during what was a 13-3 regular season.
Pittsburgh was 9-2 and soaring when the team dealt with a situation that was nothing short of traumatic. Facing the Bengals on "Monday Night Football," linebacker Ryan Shazier, a front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year at the time, suffered a severe injury that ultimately required spine stabilization surgery. The story has a good ending; Shazier is walking and is enjoying a successful post football life. But he never played football again, and the weight of losing Shazier -- both physical and emotional -- was significant for the 2017 Steelers.
Without Shazier, the Steelers defense started to decline, specifically against the run. That was especially bad given Pittsburgh's divisional round opponent: the Jaguars, who thrashed the Steelers at Heinz Field back in Week 6.
The rematch wasn't much different. Jacksonville raced out to a 35-7 lead while dominating in all three phases. Desperate, the Steelers offense went down swinging. In what was their final game together, Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown each put up big numbers. Roethlisberger threw for 469 yards and five touchdowns. Brown, who was injured, caught seven passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns against the league's best secondary. Bell tallied 155 yards and a pair of scores in his final game in a Steelers uniform.
"We didn't get a ring. I look back on it, we could have had a ring, but injuries plagued us," Bell said. "We lost to Jacksonville. We couldn't stop Leonard Fournette for nothing. If we had Shazier, that's a totally different story."
You know what happens next, so no need to regurgitate it here. Understandably, there were hard feelings on both sides stemming from Bell's departure from Pittsburgh. But time heals all wounds, and in Bell's case, it has healed any wounds that may have previously existed between himself and the Steelers. He's hoping that Steelers fans will choose to remember the good times, and there were many. They didn't win any rings, but the 2010s Steelers were an entertaining team that only added to the team's popularity.
Bell is also hoping that Steelers fans are in his corner for his next chapter, whether it's in a boxing ring, behind a microphone, or, possibly, on a football field.
"In any avenue that I take seriously and put my mind to, I can be the best at it," he said. "I want people to understand that when you put your mind to something, you can do it. There's so many negative energies out here and people trying to bring other people down to make themselves feel better. You can decide to allow that to affect you and your mood and bring you down, you can ignore it, or — this is what I do — I use it as motivation. But at the end of the day, I'm just proving it to myself. … Whether it's music, boxing, if I ever back on the football field. I believe in myself more than anybody else, and it started when I was 6 years old."