Professional sports stars from Long Beach honored for philanthropy

Being a professional athlete takes more than just showing up on game day and performing on the field. True pros deliver in their communities—and there’s a pair of Long Beach natives who have done just that, and they’ve been honored for their off-the-field presence.

Long Beach Wilson High alum Joel Bitonio was named the Cleveland Browns’ nominee for the 2022 Walter Payton Man of the Year award, and Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who was born in Long Beach, won the Roberto Clemente Award this year.

“Obviously our No. 1 goal is to help as many people as we can,” Turner said in a press conference after receiving the award, “but I think No. 2 is to help our younger guys realize [their impact] and grow and start their foundations, and hopefully … impact just as many people.”

The Roberto Clemente Award is given annually to the Major League Baseball player who “best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field,” according to the MLB.

“I think when you think about baseball and the history and all the great accolades that can be achieved on the field, this is one that stands out above all of them for me,” Turner added, “because it’s a way that my wife and I have the opportunity to give back in the community, to utilize our platform in a meaningful, positive way.”

After founding the Justin Turner Foundation in 2016 with his wife, Kourtney, Turner has raised money to support homeless veterans, children and families battling life-altering diseases and some youth baseball organizations. Last year, his golf tournament raised more than $650,000.

Bitonio, meanwhile, has also helped raise money and support the northeast Ohio community after being drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2014. The All-Pro offensive lineman and his wife, Courtney, have been heavily involved with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Shop with a Pro and A Kid Again Ohio, which supports children with life-threatening conditions and their families. Bitonio also sponsors Wilson High athletics coverage at The562.org.

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,” Bitonio said in a statement. “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.”

The Walter Payton Man of the Year award recognizes one player from all 32 NFL teams for their play on the field and their dedication to their community. The 2022 winner will be announced a few days before the Super Bowl.

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