In 2006, Matthew A. Cherry was a footnote at the end of a Baltimore Ravens news release noting the players who had been cut before the start of the regular season as the team finalized its 53-man roster.
Now, nearly 14 years after he was released by his last NFL team, Cherry is an award-winning filmmaker, receiving the Academy Award on Sunday night for Best Animated Short Film for “Hair Love.”
Along with co-creator Karen Rupert Toliver, Cherry won the award for a short about a black father trying to style his daughter’s hair. “Hair Love" beat out the likes of “Kitbull” and “Memorable.”
Cherry, a former wide receiver who bounced around the NFL after playing at the University of Akron, eventually quit the game in 2007. According to The Undefeated, Cherry was placed on injured reserve and received a $30,000 pretax settlement for a shoulder injury when he was released.
Suffice to say, the subjects of professional football or the Ravens did not come up during Cherry’s acceptance speech, which focused mainly on the issue of African-American hairstyles being seen as less desirable or professional as white hairstyles.
Cherry said he and Toliver created the movie “because we wanted to see more representation in animation, wanted to normalize black hair.”
He also referenced the CROWN Act, a California law that prohibits discrimination on hairstyle or texture, saying he wanted to see the legislation taken nationwide.
Cherry took DeAndre Arnold, a Texas teenager who was told he must cut his dreadlocks if he wanted to attend his high school graduation, as his guest to the awards ceremony.
Cherry is just the second former professional athlete to win an Oscar, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Kobe Bryant won in the same category for “Dear Basketball” at the 2018 Oscars. The former NBA star died in a helicopter crash last month that also took the life of his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
“Dear Basketball,” based on a poem written to announce his NBA retirement, was Bryant’s love letter to the game.
Onstage, Cherry said: “This award is dedicated to Kobe Bryant. May we all have a second act as great as his was.”