GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — Before this NFL season, Green Bay Packers running back AJ Dillon had never played in a fantasy football league in his life.
After Tweeting out that he wanted to get into fantasy over the summer, Sleeper, a fantasy sports app, challenged Dillon to enter their annual Sleeper Bowl, a celebrity fantasy football league filled with "experts" like the Fantasy Footballers and FantasyPros.
“Somebody called me out like, 'There's no way he can beat us in fantasy,'" Dillon said, laughing. "You know, I'm a pretty competitive guy.”
The NFL strictly prohibits players from gambling, which includes betting on sports; players may participate in fantasy football leagues, but they can't accept prizes exceeding $250.
“This is the first time that we've actually donated to a philanthropy," said Jeremy Darlow, Vice President of Marketing for Sleeper. "And we did so because of AJ. That was his idea. He wanted to to put the money towards a cause, rather than taking it home himself.”
In the fantasy draft, Dillon's first pick was Christian McCaffrey, running back for the Carolina Panthers, and he had David Montgomery, running back for the Chicago Bears, as his starting running back.
"They both battled injuries this year," said Dillon. "So I was putting my coaching hat on. Our team had to battle some adversity, but it was a great time.”
Despite battling that adversity, Dillon came out on top, and he found out he won the Sleeper Bowl shortly after the Packers beat the Vikings at Lambeau on January 2nd. Immediately, he knew he wanted to give a huge donation to the Cancer Team at Bellin Health, he said.
“I definitely wanted to do something local," said Dillon. "I am starting to lay down my roots here in Green Bay. I'm a "For-lifer," as some of the guys on the team would call it. I'm one of the guys who wants to stay here year round.”
First time playing fantasy football this season and I won it all 😂 Thanks to @sleeperHQ and all the awesome guys in the league for teaching me the ropes! Also shoutout @AaronRodgers12 and @amonra_stbrown for carrying me through the playoffs 😂 pic.twitter.com/ZVWDgxc2yZ— AJ “The Sauce” Dillon (@ajdillon7) January 3, 2022
The $25,000 donation choice has a personal connection: Dillon's soon-to-be mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer during the off-season. She battled through chemo and did a few of her treatments at Bellin, and she's recovering well and in great health, said Dillon.
“For us, it is so exciting that AJ Dillon as a player feels that same sense of community responsibility and passion to improve really where he works and plays and where he has people near and dear to his heart," said Andrea Werner, Bellin Health Senior Vice President of Population Health Strategy and Transformation. “AJ has really been a role model and a leader on how players can exercise their individual generosity to contribute to the community, and who knows where this could go.”
Bellin Health isn't the only local nonprofit receiving Dillon's fantasy winnings; $10,000 is going to Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center, a community center that assists local law enforcement, district attorneys and child protective services in conducting investigations of child abuse and neglect.
“Child abuse is not an easy topic to talk about," said Kristie Sickel, Program Manager. "And just bringing that awareness that there are kids who have been the victims of abuse in our community and getting that out there that there is help for them here at Willow Tree.”
In 2021 alone, Willow Tree conducted 551 child forensic interviews, said Sickel.
“The other day I had a child say to me that at the end of the interview that they feel like a weight that has been on their shoulder for years has finally been lifted, and it feels so great, and they feel like they can move forward," she said.
So after receiving the key to Door County and announcing his campaign for mayor... what's next for the running back?
"Once, you know, we win the Superbowl, we get the Lombardi," Dillon said confidently. "That's next. Bring that up to Door County, and I think in the off-season, I'm just going to go door-to-door and start my petition and my campaign for the actual mayor. I need to figure that out, how to be a mayor of all the counties. And then governor, who knows, Governor of Wisconsin.”