You don’t know me, but for years, I hated you.
It’s nothing personal, since I didn’t actually hate the person “John Cena.” Just the character “John Cena”—the one on TV, the one you’ve played for a decade in World Wrestling Entertainment. The handsome, muscular, high-fivin’, flag-salutin’, corny-joke-crackin’ company man. The modern-day superhero, who wears brightly-colored T-shirts while forever preaching the values of “hustle, loyalty, and respect.”
Man, I hated that guy.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Why? Why such animosity directed toward an obviously righteous and upstanding guy? After all, would you hate on Superman?” Apparently, yes. And I wasn’t alone, judging by the boos and jeers you routinely inspire from a large segment of the WWE Universe.
Oh, don’t get me wrong: you have millions of devoted, rabid fans who will cheer your every move. But you also have equally devoted, rabid detractors—just as many and just as loud. In fact, whenever you’re in the ring, arenas across the country resound with dueling chants:
“Let’s go, Cena!”
“LET’S GO, CENA!”
Now, as to why they think you suck, I can’t say for sure. Maybe they resent that you’re always the focus of the show, or that your matches are predictable, or that you vanquish bad guys too effortlessly. Or maybe some folks don’t like you because you’re not Stone Cold Steve Austin. You don’t swear. You don’t flip people off. You don’t drink beer in the ring. You’re the smiling, perfectly manufactured poster-boy for a kinder, gentler WWE. And for that, they hate you.
And me? My beef had more to do with your character’s lack of dimension. Basically, you’re too heroic, too virtuous—and as a result, not particularly compelling, dramatically. After all, any interesting character, in any form of entertainment, needs to have cracks, vulnerabilities, shades of grey. In terms of drama, your lack of imperfections is your biggest weakness.
None of this is your fault, incidentally. You’ve been saddled with the hardest role in professional wrestling—that of the squeaky-clean good guy. And you play that role well. No one, not even the Haters, can question your work ethic or your dedication to the company.
Nor can anyone doubt your success: your merchandise sales are right behind Hulk Hogan’s and Steve Austin’s. (Pretty good company, I’d say.) But that success also limits you: WWE execs don’t want to do anything too extreme with you—and that includes turning you into a bad guy (something pretty much every pro-wrestler does at some point)—for fear of messing with their cash-cow.
So, yeah, John… for many years, I was firmly in the “Cena Sucks!” camp. But then something changed. In a way, this change had a lot to do with one of your catch phrases. “You can’t see me,” you’re fond of saying—and it was true. I couldn’t really “see” you, not fully, because I was only looking at you one way, from the perspective of a jaded wrestling fan. But I’m also a parent. So I tried “seeing” you as a parent would. Or more accurately: I tried to see you as my own children would.
For years, I shielded my twin sons from wrestling. After all, I lived through the WWE of the late ’90s; I couldn’t expose my kids to the occasionally mature (read: downright sleazy) content. But a little over a year ago, knowing the WWE adopted a tamer, “PG” format, I took them to their first live wrestling event. They were eleven years old.
They cheered for you, John. And I don’t even remember encouraging them to cheer for you; somehow, they just knew. As did all the other kids in the arena. And at that moment, amidst the deafening “Let’s Go, Cena!’ chants, suddenly my mind flashed back, to a Larry King show (of all things).
It’s July 2007. Wrestler Chris Benoit had killed his family and then himself, and you and several other wrestlers are talking with Larry, trying to make sense of this horrific event. A mom calls and asks what she should tell her children. In reply, Bret “The Hitman” Hart offers up just three words: “Watch John Cena.”
Good advice. Kids should watch—and admire—John Cena, both the person and the character. The person John Cena, because you seem like a legitimately good guy: not only do you never get any bad press, but you’ve visited more sick and dying kids (over 300) than any celebrity in the history of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. And the character John Cena, because you stand for something. A lot of things, actually. “Never Give Up.” “Rise Above Hate.” “Hustle, Loyalty, Respect.” These are the ideals emblazoned across your T-shirts—and they’re good ideals. Ones I want my sons to embrace.
So, John… on April 7th, you’re set to face the WWE Champ, The Rock, in the main event of the WWE’s WrestleMania 29 pay-per-view extravaganza. WWE hopes to shoehorn 90,000 fans into New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium—and you know half of them will be chanting, “Cena sucks!” But I’m here to tell you: don’t let the Haters get you down. Just keep concentrating on the other 45,000. The kids. The ones that need you.
Let’s Go, Cena!