Matthew Cherry Stands Tall with âThe Last Fallâ

Matthew Cherry

Young people---and even many adults---often dream of having lives like those of their favorite celebrities. The idea of hearing thousands of fans chant your name is enough to make anyone aspire to live that type of lifestyle; being paid earning millions of dollars to live out your dreams doesn’t hurt either. Yet we tend to forget that even superstars have their own personal struggles and tragedies to endure, just like “normal” people.

Former NFL Player Matthew Cherry has given us a look into the “other side” with his new film “The Last Fall,” starring Lance Gross. The movie depicts an athlete’s struggle away from the football field, which is based on the life of Matthew, himself. The athlete-turned-director sat with EBONY and discussed his inspiration for the film and the side of the NFL that you don’t often get to see.

EBONY: Explain your inspiration for “The Last Fall."

Matthew Cherry: There’s a huge disconnect between perception and reality. Everyone thinks that every NFL player is a millionaire and that life is good, but there’s a huge difference between our league and the NBA, Major League Baseball and the NHL. The NFL is the only professional sport that doesn’t have guaranteed contracts and the average player only lasts 3.5 seasons. Only four percent of players have a career that lasts more than four seasons, which leaves 96% of the players that come into the league as a rookie, retired in their mid-twenties. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with outliers but they say that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. This essentially leaves young men that have literally become experts at their craft, without a job in their mid-twenties – their dream is gone. When you compare that to other fields, people at that age are just coming into their own and getting their first promotion. You’re at the age where people are beginning to take you seriously [in your field], but now you’ve got to start from scratch, which is what happened to me.

I... played for three seasons, which is the average. I played for four different teams during that time, as well as playing briefly in Canada and NFL Europe. All of this resulted in me living in nine different cities and three countries within a three year span. The game left me when I was only 25 years old.

My goal is to humanize athletes. So many fans only look at players as statistics. They don’t think about these players as being human beings. A player can drop a pass, and all they’ll think is “he sucks and his life sucks.”

I really wanted to tell my story of how I’ve had a car get repossessed, how I had to move back home after getting released, and a lot of things that many guys go through, but we’ve never seen it depicted on screen.

EBONY: What was your state of mind like during this up and down period of your professional career?

MC: I always knew that I wanted to get into entertainment once I finished playing ball. When I got into the league, I found out very quickly that I wouldn’t be there long. I got cut during training camp and moved to the practice squad, making a salary of $80,000. What people don’t realize is that in the NFL, you’re taxed at the highest tax bracket, as well as being taxed in every state that you play in. In addition to that, you have to pay your agent and others involved, not to mention that you’re only being paid for the 16-17 weeks during the season. You’ve gotta make the money stretch for an entire year, because there aren’t any checks coming in January through July.

My main thing was finding some sort of transition. This is a game that I’ve been playing since I could walk, in all honesty. All of a sudden you’re back home and completely depressed. Look at a guy like Junior Seau...a player of this magnitude, who’s achieved every accolade imaginable in the NFL sans winning a Super Bowl, and he’s depressed! If he commits suicide after he leaves the game and is experiencing depression, what do you tell a guy that sees his dream shattered at 25, long before he even gets to see it actually grow into something? That was pretty much what I went through. I was down all the time and very depressed---I didn’t know what I was going to do next.

EBONY: What message do you want people to walk away with, after seeing this film?

MC: My goal is to humanize athletes. So many fans only look at players as statistics. They don’t think about these players as being human beings. A player can drop a pass, and all they’ll think is “he sucks and his life sucks.” Nobody thinks about how players are affected by their performance, or how their home-life is affected by it. When you see players get traded, you don’t think that this player that’s playing in Jacksonville gets traded to Oakland, San