Green Bay Packers’ A. J. Dillon’s Jewish roots

"All my teammates in the locker room, they knew I was Jewish. They supported me, especially when I was younger."
A.J. Dillon #28 of the Green Bay Packers reacts as he walks off the field following the team's win against the Detroit Lions during an NFL football game at Lambeau Field on September 20, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

“Most people look at me and the last thought that comes across their mind is that you’re Jewish,” Green Bay Packers’ running back A.J. Dillon told a crowd of teenagers at the annual BBYO conference this year.

“Growing up, my mom’s side of the family was very Jewish and I went to Hebrew school. I was very active, and I’m part of the Hendel family … and it’s just a long lineage and I’m happy to be a part of the culture that they have and continue,” he continued. (Side note: We at Unpacked attended the conference and can attest he was the most popular Jew there.) 

Dillon made the announcement publicly back in 2021 on a viral TikTok duet busting down Jewish stereotypes and has been talking about it ever since.

@ajdillon2 #duet with @itssssmariiii SUPERSPY!!!! #DADMOVES #friendsreunion #superspy ♬ International Super Spy – dylan

Growing up in New London, Connecticut, Dillon attended Hebrew school before doubling down on football.

“All my life up to that point had been Hebrew school, had been Judaism. My entire family, on that side of the family, is all Jewish and practicing and all, observed every holiday and everything,” he said in a YouTube interview.

Judaism “was just one of those things I naturally seeked out,” he said.

And despite being the only Jew on the team (he played in college for Boston College, a Catholic school), he says his teammates were mostly understanding of the unique challenges being Jewish presented.

“All my teammates in the locker room, they knew I was Jewish. They supported me, especially when I was younger. In high school, there were days where … I was observing Jewish holidays. People don’t really understand. ‘What do you mean you can’t come to practice?’ People just thought I was trying to get a day off of school, so … I’ve been really lucky to have always had support,” he said at the BBYO conference. 

A.J. Dillon #28 of the Green Bay Packers reacts scoring on a rushing touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on December 19, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

When asked in an interview what he appreciated most about being Jewish, Dillon replied:

“I would say the history. I’d say the lineage. I’d say the proud history, that’s something in the Hendel family we have a book that goes back that’s constantly being updated with every new member, every past member of our family … I’m reading all these things and reading these blips about my ancestors and you know the things that they went through.”

Dillon is not the first Jewish player in the NFL, at least 50 Jewish players have played in the league, most notably Julian Edelman who announced his retirement at the end of the 2021 season while wearing a Magen David.