Jerome Bettis took a pounding in 13 NFL seasons. "The Bus" was a physical running back, who hit a lot of guardrails in the form of defenders.
Like many of his former NFL brethren, Bettis is now understanding the price his body paid in a career of football, and he was recently introduced as a spokesperson for Stryker Orthopaedics, a medical technology company.
"Even if you deal with these chronic pains, you don't have to," Bettis says. "I think that was a misunderstanding I had. I just assumed that was part of the deal. Now, I understand that chronic joint pain is not part of the deal. You can do some things about it."
Post-playing health issues can be a touchy subject. The NFL continues to revise rules, which cause many former players to deem the modern NFL too soft.
"The way it's going now with the way they're protecting everybody, which I get it, you're going to be watching flag football in 25 years," former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher told ThePostGame in January.
In the meantime, pain management is a real issue for NFL players and retirees.
"It's an unfortunate reality," Bettis says. " I want to enlighten some of those guys that they can manage the pain better. It's not that I'm taking sides. Education is for everyone. That's the goal. It's not just for the retired football players or basketball players or soccer players. They deal with chronic pain as well. We know about retired golfers who have chronic issues, so it's not just about football players."
Stryker also has an official partnership the PGA Tour. Bettis, an avid golfer, feels he can relate to another sport that takes a toll on joint pain. Golf has no contact, but constant muscular stress wears golfers' bodies.
But Bettis' expertise is in football, and he can give some good advice to the league's younger players.
"The keys for young players is understanding the risk that is involved," he says. "You have to be comfortable with those risks. If you're not comfortable, then you have to avoid the situation. That's what I'd tell them. The one thing I don't want to tell them is how to play the game. Once you start alternating how you play the game, then the possibility of injury becomes more prevalent. I want players to just understand the risk involved.
"I would have told myself to be a little bit more conscious about how you take the contact, how you dish out the punishment, be judicious about when you need to or when you don’t."
Bettis retired in 2005, a few days before his 33rd birthday. His production was declining and the Steelers had a Pro Bowler-in-the-making in Willie Parker. In fact, Bettis actually had to be convinced to return for his final season, which ended up earning him his lone Super Bowl title. Although Bettis was not in his prime, many players, notably Calvin Johnson and Marshawn Lynch, are retiring around age 30 with good years left in the tank.
"Players are more conscious about the health issues involved, whether it's physical, from knees to hips to ankles or mental, from the brain trauma aspect," Bettis says of players' changing perspectives. "There's also a secondary aspect you have to factor in and that's financial security. These guys are making a lot more money than guys have ever made, so a lot of them are financially secure. The decision becomes less difficult because they're set financially, as opposed to years past, when that wasn't the case."
Bettis joins a pair of golfers in their 50s, Fred Funk and Hal Sutton, as celebrity ambassadors for Stryker. Bettis' partnership became official March 21.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.