Giovani Bernard’s football journey began where many of today’s stars are born, in West Palm Beach, Florida. The son of Haitian immigrants, Bernard was a four-star recruit coming out of the powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas program where he shared the field with future NFL stars like LaMarcus Joyner and fellow Ed Block Courage Award winner, James White. After turning down an initial recruitment to Notre Dame, Bernard found his way to Chapel Hill, NC. There, he went on to rush for 2500 yards for the Tar Heels from 2011-2012 after recovering from an ACL tear to start his college career.
Drafted 37th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2013 NFL Draft, Giovani Bernard – the first UNC RB drafted that high in nearly two decades – helped the Bengals reach the playoffs with an 11-5 record and was named to the NFL All-Rookie team. From 2013-2015 with Bernard in the Cincinnati backfield, the Bengals achieved postseason play for three straight seasons. After gaining over 1,000 total yards a season during his first three years in the NFL, Bernard was rewarded with a three year 15.5-million-dollar contract ahead of the 2016 season.
Injuries and The Ed Block Courage Award
Giovani Bernard suffered his second torn ACL of his career in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. Despite the Bengals drafting Joe Mixon in the 2017 NFL Draft the following year, Bernard returned to form quickly and received a lot of praise from his coaches, teammates, and trainers. In doing so, he earned the selection as the Bengals 2017 Ed Block Courage Award recipient.
“Giovani was upset and disappointed when he tore his ACL, just like any player would be,” said Bengals trainer Paul Sparling, who retired in 2022. “After his surgery, he came in and got to work every day on his rehabilitation – leaving no doubt in his mind or in anyone else’s that he would be ready to go for training camp. His return to pre-injury form should be an example to everyone that hard work and dedication can help attain your goals.”
Bernard returned to action and finished 2017 with 458 yards rushing and another 389 yards through the air, playing complementary to Mixon. Bernard’s play earned yet another contract extension in 2019 to stay in Cincinnati for two years, 10.3 million dollars.
In 2021, Bernard returned to his home state of Florida – signing a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Becoming a key safety net for Tom Brady, Bernard rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown in Tampa’s 31-15 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, before their season came to an end against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams.
Post Playing Career
After a decade-long run in the NFL, Giovani Bernard announced his retirement on April 28th, 2023.
“10 years ago, I came into this league grateful. Grateful for what God has done for me to get to that moment and to celebrate all the obstacles that were overcome. And now fast forward 10 years, I leave humbled…humbled by the experiences, relationships and memories that have shaped me during this time,” Bernard wrote on Twitter.
“You’ve allowed me and my family to be a part of something truly special. We are forever grateful and feel truly blessed that this was part of our journey. As I look forward, I’m excited for the newness ahead. New challenges to face and new adventures to take. What a ride.”
Bernard and his wife, Chloe, met during his time at North Carolina and tied the knot in Italy in 2019. They welcomed a son into the world, Julian, in 2021.
Throughout his NFL career, Bernard was the key voice behind the Bernard Family Foundation – which focused on “empowering under-privileged children to break the cycle of poverty through quality education.” The Foundation has its roots with several efforts in Bernard’s home state of Florida and helped give back to the state of Ohio during Bernard’s time with the Bengals.