Cherry, Deron 1959–
Deron Cherry 1959–
Business executive, former professional football player
During his professional football career, Deron Cherry was one of the most admired players in the National Football League (NFL). He was selected to play in the Pro Bowl six times, tied an NFL record for most interceptions in a game, and was honored with the NFL Players’ Association’s highest award. After hanging up his helmet he continued to score in the business world as the owner of two very successful ventures. In 1994 he made another big play when he became co-owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars; as such, he was one of only two minority owners in the NFL. His achievements in sports and business have made him both a role model and an inspiration. However, his most lasting legacy will be less public. It will play itself out in the lives of the thousands of children he has been able to help each year through his Score One for Kids program and his tireless charity involvement.
Deron Cherry was born on September 12, 1959, and raised in Palmyra, New Jersey. “Growing up there was hard,” Cherry recalled to Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). “We didn’t have a lot and people from my town just didn’t go anywhere. They stayed there and did what everyone else did. I wanted to be different. I wanted to learn from other people’s mistakes. I wanted to make sure I got a degree.” Cherry found support in that wish from his parents, George and Lillian Cherry, both of whom worked in education. His father was an English teacher and his mother was an elementary, pre-school, and special education teacher. “Education was really stressed in my family,” Cherry told CBB. At Palmyra High School, Cherry excelled, graduating with honors in 1977. However, it was his sports acumen that won him a college scholarship. “I played football from the time I was nine. I also played baseball,” he told CBB.
Cherry’s skill on the gridiron caught the attention of Rutgers University, which offered him a football scholarship to play for the Scarlet Knights. Cherry used the opportunity to achieve his academic goals. “I always wanted to be a dentist, so I majored in biology at Rutgers,” he told CBB. “I didn’t just want to spend my four years playing sports. I really wanted to get my degree.” Cherry was also a varsity-lettered baseball player for Rutgers and it was his skill on the diamond that first got him noticed by professional sports scouts. “While I was still in college I was offered a chance to play with the Phillies but decided against it,” he told CBB. “Signing with the team would have meant no more college and I really felt my education was more important.”
Not long after arriving at Rutgers on his football scholarship, Cherry switched to financial aid. “With a full football scholarship you couldn’t work, so I gave it up.” Even though he had a full class load as well as a heavy sports schedule, Cherry took a night job loading freight. He also worked as a camp counselor during the summers. “That job was the experience that really changed my life. There were counselors from all over the world and it really opened my eyes to how big the world was and all the possibilities that existed,” he explained to CBB.
At a Glance…
Born on September 12, 1959, in Riverside, NJ; son of George and Lillian Cherry (teachers); two children. Education: Rutgers University, BS, 1980. Politics: Republican.
Career : Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City, MO, safety, 1981-91; United Beverage, Kansas City, MO, owner, 1992-; Deron Cherry’s All Pro Ford, Platte City, MO, owner, 1990s-; Jacksonville Jaguars, partner, 1994-.
Memberships : Kansas City Sports Commission, board of directors, 2003-; Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority, State of Missouri, 2002-.
Selected awards: Inductee, Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 2002; inductee, Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey, 1996; AFC Defensive Player of the Year, the 101 Committee, 1986; Byron R. “Whizzer” White Humanitarian Award, NFL Players’ Association, 1988.
Addresses: Offices —Jacksonville jaguars, 1 Stadium Place, Jacksonville, FL, 32202; Deron Cherry’s All Pro Ford, 1901 Prairie View Road, Platte City, MO, 64079; United Beverage, 1903 S. Woodland, Kansas City, MO, 64108.
Cherry set several season records with the Scarlet Knights, including most punts and most yards rushed, both in 1978. In 1979 he was named the team MVP. After graduating in 1980, Cherry signed on with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent. He originally tried out as a punter. Ted Cottrell, one of his former coaches from Rutgers, had joined the Chiefs’ coaching team and, according to Sports Illustrated, “He knew Cherry had been a good punter in college. So Cottrell got him into camp.” Although he didn’t make the cut as a punter, Cherry did land a spot as a safety for the team’s defense. A safety’s job is to anticipate the offense’s moves and react quickly and decisively. It is a position that requires an incredible level of mental acuity, and Cherry proved himself to be one of the most mentally astute safeties in the game. “The one constant in Cherry’s athletic career has been his ability to identify a problem, analyze it, and then figure out how to solve it,” Sports Illustrated noted.
However, Cherry wasn’t physically quite up for the position. His speed was too slow and his weight too low. With characteristic determination, Cherry soon fixed that. “I worked with track men in the off-season and [improved my speed],” he told Sports Illustrated. “My bench press went from 250 to 335. My weight went from 185 to a solid 195.” By 1983 Cherry was the team’s starting safety and soon became one of the league’s most talented players. He became the NFL’s leading pass interceptor and in 1984 had four interceptions in one game—a record shared with only 15 other players in the history of the NFL. In 1986 he was named the American Football Conference (AFC) Defensive Player of the Year by the 101 Committee, a group of sports writers and broadcasters. Beginning in 1983, Cherry was chosen to play in the prestigious All-Pro Bowl during six consecutive years, five of those years as a starter. “I’m really proud of that,” he told CBB.
Despite his achievements on the field, Cherry told CBB, “My proudest career moment came in 1988 when I was awarded the Byron R. ‘Whizzer’ White Humanitarian Award for contributions to my team, the community and the country.” The annual award is the NFL Players’ Association’s highest honor and is presented to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of Byron White, a former U.S. Supreme Court justice and NFL player who distinguished himself through athleticism, education, and community service. During Cherry’s career with the Chiefs, he was heavily involved with charity and civic groups. “I made over 700 appearances and I’ve chaired dozens of events for all sorts of different charities,” he told CBB. When Cherry retired in 1992, the CEO of the Chiefs spoke of his career on the FanStop website: “Deron Cherry exemplifies all that is good in professional football. He has been an outstanding player and player representative for the Chiefs these past 11 years. We will not only miss his presence on the field, but also his work ethic, his leadership and commitment, and his work in the community.”
Cherry told CBB, “I was always very focused on my goals and trying to achieve goals.” This characterized his life both on and off the football field. “I played football for 11 years and during the off seasons I was always preparing myself for opportunities after football,” he told CBB. “I did some internships at local television stations and for a while thought I really wanted to get into that.” He also paid close attention to his financial situation. “You need to know the value of money and the part that it plays in your life,” he told Black Enterprise. “You need to put money in the bank. If you have the money, opportunities will come.”
His first opportunity after retiring from football was acquiring a majority stake in a Kansas City-based Anheuser-Busch distributorship. Cherry has served as director and managing partner for United Beverages since 1992. He also bought an automobile dealership and became president of Deron Cherry’s All-Pro Ford in Platte City, Missouri.
Cherry has become an important member of Kansas City’s business community and has worked on several civic initiatives, including spearheading the push for increased hotel taxes in Kansas City and serving on the board of Missouri’s Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority. His business success can be traced back to his career with the NFL. He told CBB, “The experience of being an NFL player, I really treated like a business. Managing my income, appearances, negotiations. I learned a lot about business from that. I also had the opportunity to meet many business leaders who became great mentors to me.”
Cherry’s success after his football career led him to return to the sport once more—as an owner. The NFL was preparing to authorize two expansion teams, and a group headed by investor Wayne Weaver was trying to land one of the teams for Jacksonville, Florida. The NFL had also made it very clear that they wanted minority representation in the owner’s box. Through a mutual friend, Weaver and Cherry met. “We clicked the first time we met. He told me what his plans and ideas were and we went from there,” Cherry told Jet. Before signing on, Cherry carefully considered the deal. “I had to make sure I was doing the right thing for me and my family,” he told Black Enterprise. “It was a great opportunity, but it required a huge percentage of my income and savings.”
Cherry decided it was a safe investment, and became the eighth member of the buyers’ group. In 1994 they successfully landed the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Cherry immediately became big news as one of only two African-American owners of an NFL franchise (the other was insurance executive Bill Simms, who became an owner of another expansion team the same year). Though some African-American leaders dismissed the men as nothing more than tokens in the all-white ownership circle, Black Enterprise noted that “neither [Cherry nor Simms] felt the capital they invested was token.” Though Cherry has no official role in the daily operations of the team, because of his stellar NFL record he is a valuable consultant to the team. He also views his position as a chance to help integrate the coaching ranks of the NFL, which are 90%; white, while more than 70% of the players are black. “Why don’t we have enough black head coaches?” Cherry rhetorically asked SportsLine. “When an owner gets ready to hire a head coach, he goes around and polls his inner circle and that’s where we don’t have very strong representation.” Cherry is now in a position to change that.
As Cherry’s business profile has risen, so has his community involvement. In 1993 he co-founded Score One for Kids, a health screening program for school-children in the Kansas City area. “It is aimed mostly at kids that don’t have a chance to see a doctor, at-risk kids. With budget cuts in schools, health screening is one of the first things to go. I wanted to make sure kids had a healthy start,” he told CBB. Cherry got the idea for the organization after seeing a television feature on a little girl who was put into a special education program because her teachers thought she was a slow learner. It turned out she had a vision problem. “It was a physical thing, not a learning problem,” Cherry told CBB. “I thought, ‘How many other kids are out there in this same situation?’” The program started in 1993 with 200 kids in one school, and by 2003 it was serving over 10,000 kids in 30 schools. Cherry also serves as the organization’s main fundraiser, especially relying on his annual Celebrity Invitational Golf Tournament. However, Cherry doesn’t limit his do-gooding to Score One. He participates in dozens of fundraisers and charity golf tournaments each year that benefit both local and national groups, including the Special Olympics. His commitment to the community has a direct link to his childhood in Palmyra. “So many people there told me I would never go anywhere. That I couldn’t make it in the NFL or anywhere. It was hard,” Cherry told CBB. “But fortunately there were a few people, mentors, second fathers to me, who really supported me and believed in me at a time when it was really important for me to hear that. They helped put my life on track and I remember telling myself, ‘If I ever get into a position to help someone like that, to influence someone, I would.’” To the benefit of thousands of young people, he is succeeding.
Black Enterprise, May 1994, p. 16; July 1995, p. 84.
Jet, January 24, 1994, p. 46.
Sports Illustrated, September 9, 1987, p. 118.
“Deron Cherry,” FanStop, www.superfans.net/kcwarroom/cherry.asp (June 2, 2003).
“Minorities have gained ground in NFL, but the game’s not over,” CBS SportsLine, http://cbs.sportsline.com/u/ce/multi/0,1329,1024835_59,00.html (June 2, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on June 4, 2003.
"Cherry, Deron 1959–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cherry-deron-1959
"Cherry, Deron 1959–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved February 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cherry-deron-1959
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