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Pro Wrestling

John Cena Can’t Escape Vince McMahon’s Fantasy World

The Rock, Vince McMahon, John Cena
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

As much as WWE wishes it could be swept under the rug, the ousting of Vince McMahon amid allegations of sex crimes remains a story that the entire pro wrestling industry needs to examine meticulously. Given McMahon's massive power and influence over a period of several decades, as he built up a product that is currently one of the biggest TV properties in the world, the questions of how, exactly, he harmed his female subordinates, who in WWE knew about it, and who might have aided him in his harassment and abuse all demand answers. But rich and famous male pro wrestlers, unfortunately, have not proven to be the type of people who can soberly reckon with these kinds of issues, and John Cena proved that again in a Howard Stern interview on Wednesday.

Stern, referring to the accusations of rape, sex trafficking, and other crimes against McMahon as "hot water," framed his question for Cena around his own experiences having friends whom he later heard were accused abusers. "This is a guy who's been so good to you, and so great in your career, I imagine it's a mindfuck, and then when you get asked about it, it's too complicated to even talk about," he said, to which Cena, who's mostly focused on Hollywood now but still wrestled eight matches for WWE last year, responded with this word jumble that indicates a paralyzing phobia of proper nouns.

I don't think it's complicated to talk about. I think it's complicated to listen to. And that's kind of why I don't necessarily put a lot of time and equity into it. There’s still a long ways to go. I can say this: I’m a big advocate of love and friendship, and honesty and communication, but in the same breath, I’m also a big advocate of accountability.

I think you explained it well of, if someone's behavior lies so far outside of your value system that the balance shifts of, like, 'Man, I can't operate in a world where this works,' that's the end result of being accountable.

Right now, what I'm gonna do is, love the person I love, be their friend. By that it means like, 'Hey, I love you, you've got a hill to climb.' There's the saying of, 'You don’t know who your friends are until the shit hits the fan or your back is against the wall.' That doesn't make any of what's going on any easier to swallow. But just telling somebody that like 'Hey I love you, man this is gonna be a hill to climb, we’re gonna see what happens. And that's that.' It sounds so cliche, but it has to be one day at a time. But at the same token, I've openly said, I love the guy, I got a great relationship with the guy, so that’s that.

I think my construct of trying to operate with honesty and communication, I think those are strong leads to handling any problem or any achievement. The whole thing is super, super unfortunate. That's really the thing that sucks. Because not only does it deal with an individual I love, it deals with an entity that I love, and one that I speak highly of. I want everyone to have the experience that I had.

If you're an employee at Disneyland, you want everybody to go to Disney and think it's the greatest place on Earth, and when someone doesn't, or when you find out that there may or may not have been things going on there that, this place I was speaking so great about, in some aspects needed a lot of work, that's more than just 'How do I feel about this person?' Now I shift to 'Am I doing all I can to make it better? Is there anything I can do?' So not only do I tell my friend I love them, I also switch to the entity and say, 'How can I help?'

The ending would be a great punchline if it wasn't so sick. After establishing his love for Vince McMahon, Cena finally acknowledges that there might be work to be done, and that he wants to lend any assistance he can offer to—no, not the victims—his employer, WWE, an "entity" that he also loves.

Along with Dwayne Johnson, who's running implicit interference for the company by making such an attention-grabbing comeback in their on-screen storylines, Cena has one of the loudest voices in wrestling. With that attention comes a responsibility to help your fellow workers and ensure everyone is being treated fairly. Cena gestures at that idea in the very end of his answer, but in talking about his role as a longtime face of WWE, it's clear his empathy is directed at those alongside him at the top of the ladder. Once you've made the climb, there's no pressing need to inspect it for structural flaws.

Cena's comments gain further context alongside some press interviews another WWE star, Randy Orton, did this week, which also included questions about McMahon. While Orton at least admitted that the allegations sounded horrible, he also pulled a classic dumb-guy move by assuming that truth has to lie somewhere between two sides and continually succumbed to that urge to credit McMahon for his own success.

“There’s three sides to every story,” he told the New York Post. “Their side, the other side and then the truth. I think a lot more has to come out before I can really speak on any of this. I think that would be the case for any talent that you ask, but I do know about Vince McMahon the man that I’ve known for the past 24 years personally and I owe him for everything he’s done for me."

That last phrase is as clear a window as you'll get into the trick WWE's deposed dictator pulled on so many of his contractors. In the demented world of McMahon's sports entertainment, it's not charisma or intelligence or athletic ability or hard work that's responsible for one's success, but the genius and kindness of Vince himself. (Cena's a sucker for this hagiography too: A couple years ago, he said that his wrestling Mount Rushmore would be "a one person statue and the face would be Vince McMahon.") What goes unremarked upon is that every major decision McMahon ever made was money- or ego-driven, and the record profits WWE raked in at the end of his tenure are proof in themselves of the way his company underpaid and screwed over its workers. Without the wrestlers' contributions, there is no WWE. Without Vince, as this current iteration of the company proves, the machine functions as usual. The idea among these star wrestlers that they owe their boss for the money they made for him shows the stunning lack of self-confidence that McMahon managed to instill in so many of his subordinates. And even if that ridiculous idea were true, they could still spare more than an empty platitude or two for the people he didn't treat quite so well.

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