‘Hair Love’s’ Matthew A. Cherry is the second Oscar-winning former pro athlete after Kobe Bryant

Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver
“Hair Love” writer-director-producer Matthew A. Cherry and producer Karen Rupert Toliver.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Former NFL player Matthew A. Cherry is proof that you can have more than one dream.

The writer, producer and co-director of “Hair Love” became just the second former professional athlete to win an Oscar when the film took the award for animated short at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday. His win follows that of Kobe Bryant, who won in the same category for “Dear Basketball” at the 2018 Oscars. The former Lakers star died in a helicopter crash last month that also took the life of his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.

Based on a poem written to announce his NBA retirement, “Dear Basketball” 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.”


Cherry’s “Hair Love,” on the other hand, is a loving look at black families. The film, which started as a Kickstarter project, is about a young black girl named Zuri who turns to her father for help styling her hair. It’s a film that celebrates black fathers and black natural hair.

“[‘Hair Love’] felt like a great opportunity to really shine the spotlight on black fathers, because so often in mainstream media they just get a bad rap,” Cherry previously told The Times.

A former NFL wide receiver who had stints on the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens, Cherry left the league in 2007 to pursue a film career.

“I always was interested in film,” Cherry told the Times in the earlier interview. “I always knew when I got done playing sports I’d get into filmmaking.

“I just hope that inspires people to know that you can continue on and you can have more than one dream,” he added.