As the Cleveland Browns officially launch their annual "10 Days of Giving" initiative today, the team announced G Joel Bitonio will represent Cleveland as its 2022 Walter Payton Man of the Year, presented by Nationwide. One of the NFL's most prestigious honors, the award recognizes one member from each of the NFL's 32 clubs for their exceptional performance on the field and their dedication to the community.
"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 Haslam Sports Group Managing and Principal Partners Dee and Jimmy Haslam. "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."
"The honor of being the Walter Payton Man of the Year for the Cleveland Browns is pretty surreal," said Bitonio. "You see guys like (Browns Legend T) Joe Thomas who have won the award before and you see across the NFL guys like (former Saints QB) Drew Brees, (Cardinals DE) J.J. Watt and people who did things on very grand scales and have been great role models for their team and their community. To be named the Man of the Year for me is pretty special.
"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.
"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.' I appreciate it, and let's see what else we can do to help the community."
The Haslam and Johnson families will present the award to Bitonio prior to the Browns-Ravens game at FirstEnergy Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 17.
A second-round pick (No. 35 overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft, Bitonio is the longest-tenured Brown and has consistently been a high-level contributor as a leader in the locker room, on the field and in the Northeast Ohio Community.
Bitonio has started 124 career games, playing every regular season offensive snap since 2017 (93 games). Last season, he earned his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl selection (2018-21), becoming the first Browns guard to accomplish the feat since Pro Football Hall of Famer Gene Hickerson (six consecutive, 1966-71). If he is voted into the Pro Bowl this season, he will join Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023 semifinalist and Browns Legend T Joe Thomas (10) as the only Cleveland players to earn the distinction in five consecutive seasons since the 1970 merger. Browns Legend NT Michael Dean Perry is the only other Browns player to be named to five total Pro Bowls during that timeframe.
The ninth-year pro has also been named to an AP All-Pro team four consecutive years (2018-21), including first-team honors in 2021; selected to the PFWA All-NFL team twice (2020 and 2021); and recognized on the Sporting News All-Pro Team in 2020 and 2021.
One of five 2022 team captains, as voted by teammates, Bitonio's accolades extend to being the Browns' 2018 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award Winner and the only three-time PFWA Dino Lucarelli Good Guy Award recipient, which recognizes a player's professionalism and cooperation with media members. Thomas is the only other Cleveland player to receive the Good Guy Award more than once.
While playing every offensive snap for the Browns in 2022, Bitonio is an integral component of a Browns offensive line that has helped the Browns rank fourth in the NFL (second AFC) in rushing yards per game (156.0), tied for third (first AFC) with 18 rushing TDs (Eagles, 21; Cowboys 19), fifth (second AFC) in runs for first downs (108), third (second AFC) in runs of 10+ yards (61) and first for runs of 20+ yards (18). Additionally, Cleveland rushed for more than 150 yards in the first five games of the season for the third time in club history (1947, 2021), as well as three more contests (Week 10 at Miami; Week 11 at Buffalo; and Week 13 at Houston). The Browns eclipsed 170 rushing yards in all eight of those games, the most in the league through Week 13.
Since joining the Browns, Bitonio has embraced the Northeast Ohio community as his home. With the importance of giving back instilled in his character by his family, he and his wife, Courtney, consistently identify ways to contribute to community initiatives with the Browns and on their own time.
Bitonio and Courtney are strong ambassadors for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. In addition to regularly donating their time and money to the organization, for the past two years Bitonio has served as a co-chair of "Taste of the Browns," the group's largest fundraiser.
Continuing his support throughout the holiday season, Bitonio has participated in a Shop with a Pro event every year since joining the team, personally funding the night for Northeast Ohio youth each of the past five years.
Throughout 2022, Bitonio has identified multiple opportunities to raise awareness for A Kid Again Ohio, including by hosting a group of families during training camp and supporting the organization through My Cause, My Cleats. A Kid Again Northern Ohio aims to foster hope, happiness, and healing for children with life-threatening conditions and their families.
During his time in Cleveland, Bitonio has engaged in many Browns community events encompassing the team's commitment to education, youth football and social justice, including support of the Stay in the Game! Get to School, Every Day Network; participating in Cleveland Browns Adapted Football League sessions; serving as a member of the Browns social justice committee leadership council; and making multiple visits to children at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital and individuals receiving treatment at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center.
As a nominee, Bitonio will wear a Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year helmet decal through the end of the season in recognition of his accomplishments on and off the field.
All 32 team winners will be highlighted as nominees and recognized for their important work during the weekend leading up to Super Bowl LVII. The 2022 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year will be announced during NFL Honors, a primetime awards special to air the Thursday before Super Bowl LVII, on NBC.
All 32 nominees will receive up to a $40,000 donation in their name to their charity of choice. The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award will receive up to a $250,000 donation to the charity of his choice. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.
Fans are encouraged to participate in Nationwide's 8th Annual Charity Challenge, a social media campaign designed to support and promote team nominees. Fans can vote on Twitter by using #WPMOYChallenge followed by their favorite nominee's last name or Twitter handle (#WPMOYChallengeBitonio *or *#WPMOYChallenge @JoelBitonio). The player whose unique mention is used the most between Dec. 6 and Jan. 8 will receive a $25,000 contribution to his charity of choice, while the second and third place finishers will receive $10,000 and $5,000 donations, all courtesy of Nationwide. Hashtag information and official rules can be found at nfl.com/manoftheyear.
The Man of the Year award has been given annually since 1970.
Cleveland Browns Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominees since 1999:
1999 OG Jim Pyne
2000 LB Jamir Miller
2001 LB Wali Rainer
2002 RB Jamel White
2003 QB Kelly Holcomb
2004 DE Kenard Lang
2005 QB Trent Dilfer
2006 QB Charlie Frye
2007 WR Braylon Edwards
2008 K Phil Dawson
2009 WR Mike Furrey*
2010 OL Joe Thomas
2011 WR Joshua Cribbs
2012 OL Joe Thomas*
2013 LB Jabaal Sheard
2014 LB Craig Robertson
2015 TE Gary Barnidge
2016 OL Joe Thomas
2017 TE Randall Telfer
2018 LB Christian Kirksey
2019 WR Jarvis Landry
2020 DE Myles Garrett
2021 CB Denzel Ward
2022 G Joel Bitonio
*Denotes national NFL finalist prior to 2018; previously the pool of 32 nominees was decreased to approximately three individuals before the winner was ultimately selected; in recent years, all honorees have been recognized as finalists
About the Cleveland Browns and Browns Give Back:
The Browns Give Back to Northeast Ohio with a commitment to education and youth football while engaging the community through the team's signature First and Ten volunteer movement. For more information, visit www.clevelandbrowns.com/brownsgiveback.
Education – The Cleveland Browns are dedicated to improving the quality of education for students in Ohio by making investments that keep kids in school every day so they can succeed, highlighted by the Stay in the Game! Keep Learning, Every Day Network. The Stay in the Game Network is a statewide initiative designed to promote the importance of school attendance and put an end to chronic absenteeism through a partnership between the Cleveland Browns Foundation, Ohio Department of Education and Harvard University's Proving Ground, as well as the Columbus Crew. The team engages local school districts and promotes quality education by using attendance data and feedback from families to build a school-going culture, uncover and reduce common barriers to attendance and support engagement opportunities for students to thrive. In the 2022-23 school year, the Stay in the Game! Network will partner with 17 school districts, benefitting more than 150,000 students in Ohio. No matter the circumstances, the Stay in the Game! Network will continue to encourage and support students to maintain a strong educational-going mindset to keep learning, every day, aligned with its overall goal to help end chronic absenteeism and provide all students equal opportunities to be successful. To learn more visit, visit StayinTheGame.org.
Youth Football – The Cleveland Browns are committed to assisting the development, safety and growth of youth and high school football throughout Northeast Ohio with year-round programming for players, coaches, officials and parents. Through camps, clinics and other initiatives, the Browns' goal is to promote healthy, social, emotional, intellectual and physical development of youth by enhancing opportunities for youth football participation and education.
First and Ten – Launched in June 2014, the Cleveland Browns First and Ten campaign is the team's community program, established to inspire fans to *#give10 and help their communities by volunteering for 10 hours each year. Through First and Ten, the Browns are the only NFL club to promote a long-term volunteering program that unifies the team and its entire fan base, with the goal of impacting every individual's city across the globe, as well as the franchise's local community. To date, more than 2.75 million hours of volunteering have been pledged through First and Ten. All Browns fans are encouraged to join the volunteering effort by signing the First and Ten pledge on the team's website and by sharing their stories with #give10.