Wilson alum and Cleveland Brown offensive lineman Joel Bitonio received a historic honor recently, as he was named to his fifth consecutive NFL Pro Bowl. Bitonio, now in his ninth year in the NFL, joins rarified air from his hometown–he is now tied with the recently-retired Jurrell Casey for most Pro Bowl honors in Long Beach history.
He was tied with Millikan alum Gary Garrison for second-most appearances prior to this season but now stands with Poly alum and defensive tackle Casey as the most decorated Long Beach alum of the more than 100 NFL products to come out of the city.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Bitonio. “It means a lot to us.”
Bitonio is second among all offensive guards in the NFL in Pro Football Focus grade, and the second-round draft pick still has yet to miss a snap since the 2016 season. He is the ninth-ever Brown to be named to five straight Pro Bowls, including five Hall of Famers. He’s the first lineman in Browns history to receive the honor since Hall of Famer Gene Hickerson did it from 1966-71.
The Pro Bowl is back in Las Vegas again this year, where the Raiders will host the festivities on Sunday, February 5. The game will be televised on ESPN.
The Pro Bowl wasn’t the only major honor for Bitonio in the last few weeks, though. He made it clear that the most significant honor was being named the Browns’ 2022 Walter Payton Man of the Year. A major honor in its own right, it also means Bitonio will be honored at the NFL’s postseason awards show along with the other 31 franchises’ WPMOY selections, one of whom will win the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year honor.
"While the entire NFL and Browns fans have watched Joel excel on the field for the past nine seasons, we have been extremely fortunate to see first-hand his contributions to our team and Northeast Ohio as an incredibly high-character man, teammate and leader," said Browns owner Jimmy Haslam in a statement. "The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is truly special because it recognizes a player's passion and dedication to the game and community service, and Joel consistently embodies what this honor represents in every way."
Bitonio has been a captain for the Browns this season and is also the team’s longest-tenured player. He credited his childhood in Long Beach and his family with giving him the heart to give back.
"I look back on my upbringing and the coaches and the people who have been part of my life growing up, and I think it is just a cumulative, 'Thank you,'” he said. “I appreciate it, and let's see what else we can do to help the community."
Bitonio credited Browns legend Joe Thomas, Drew Brees, and JJ Watt among other NFL players who have inspired him to give back to the Cleveland community.
“To be named Man of the Year for me is pretty special,” he said. “I have been part of the Cleveland community for nine years now. Giving back is just something that my mom and my dad instilled in me to take care of the people that take care of you. This community has always taken care of me. No matter where you are in life, you can lend a helping hand, be part of the community and give back, and a lot of times, you give back to help somebody, but those interactions fill you up, as well.
Bitonio was also named the Browns’ 2018 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award winner and is the only three-time Pro Football Writers Association Dino Lucarelli Good Guy Award recipient, recognizing him for professionalism and cooperation with media.
Bitonio was informed by the Browns that he was their Walter Payton Man of the Year honoree in a surprise visit to Cleveland from his mother, Debbie.
Bitonio and his wife Courtney are very active in the Cleveland community, serving as ambassadors for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, regularly donating time and money. Bitonio also serves as co-chair of Taste of the Browns, the charity’s largest fundraiser.
He also hosts a Shop With a Pro event for Northeast Ohio kids every year. Bitonio’s charitable efforts frequently focus on kids and schools, and he’s involved with several other efforts in Cleveland. He also donated Grad Nite tickets to all of Wilson High’s seniors last year, wanting to make sure that everyone could afford to go and celebrate a historic post-COVID school year.