John Cena might seem like an odd choice as Grand Marshal for Saturday’s Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure in D.C. But the professional wrestling superstar, who is arguably the most recognizable face currently in WWE, has become one of the biggest proponents of breast cancer awareness. When Cena isn’t grappling in the ring — and drawing equal number of cheers and jeers as a golden boy that some fans love and others love to hate — he is frequently found supporting charitable causes. Before he came to D.C., we chatted about how he got involved, with the Komen Foundation and going pink, how he keeps himself healthy and if his status with the fans ever affects his outside-the-ring endeavors.
How did you get involved with Susan G. Komen?
Believe it or not I got involved with Susan G. Komen because of my brother. He was diagnosed with a stage 3 tumor virtually out of the blue. The tumor was inoperable but because it was detected early he was able to manage it. He’s back to living a normal life. So when someone in my family had been closely affected by cancer I wanted to try and do what I could to help spread the message of early detection. And I looked at what all the other pro sports were doing with going pink and I sought out Susan G. Komen and said, listen the WWE wants to go pink and I think this will be an awesome relationship because we have such a large female audience. Forty percent of our audience is female. … It truly was a bold campaign. A 250-pound male being one of the lead spokespeople in the fight against breast cancer.
You mention 40 percent of viewership is female. That’s not a subset, that’s almost half of the audience.
It truly is. That’s only because WWE shifted over to a PG-rated platform in 2006 and our product is truly family entertainment. And when families comes to the events, families come to the events. You get a really nice split of race, creed, color, religion. It’s really a melting pot.
You take part in charity and cause events more than anyone else in WWE, it seems, and you’ve been doing it for more than a decade now. Does it still have the same sense of fulfillment after all these years?
Absolutely. Especially something like this, the Global Race for the Cure in D.C. is enormous. I get to pretty much grand marshal the race, get to rile everybody up, get them set to run a good one. When I talk about that instance with my brother, my goal is to help people. When you walk down this career path — you say I’ve been doing this close to a decade — your goals change as your career goes on. You want to spend your time making a difference after you’ve become successful. I guess that’s the easiest way to say it. With this, early detection is the way to fight and beat this thing. D.C. has the highest mortality rate in breast cancer. So to be able to grand marshal the Global Race in D.C., it makes a difference. Hopefully it will help save some people’s lives.
How much do you study up on this stuff? Seems like you know lots of the numbers.
You want to be able to be strong partners with whoever you align yourself with. You get a bunch of opportunities that come and go. If I took every one of them I’d have to clone myself 20 times. You take the ones you truly support. Susan G. Komen is one, Make-a-Wish is another. These are things that I stand behind and I can see the results and the difference being made. You want people to know, Wow I didn’t know D.C. was a problem area, maybe I should go get screened. Even something subtle like that can bring importance to the cause.
When dealing with your own body, how do you take care of yourself in an industry that’s dangerous and also gets its share of public bad news every so often?
I think that bad news is relative. You hear bad news through all of sports, in all of life. It’s not just entertainers or athletes. There are people with problems in life. The way I stay on top of that is, honestly, regularly scheduled check-ups, listening to my body, making sure I push myself to the limit and not beyond. You can only do what you handle.
A lot has changed with WWE in the past decade in terms of health and well-being, do you think the younger wrestlers are now better informed and know their limits?
With the addition of impact testing, the addition of drug testing, the formulation of developmental territories where these younger WWE superstars are getting the best medical attention, the best financial advice, getting future advice — the company has literally leaps and bounds improved the work environment to the best it’s ever been. Being a WWE superstar is now a greater achievement and a greater luxury than it’s ever been.
Your status with the fans is kind of split these days and has been for a little while. Does that every impact the things you do outside of the ring?
Dude. You say a little while. On April 6 we just celebrated the 30th anniversary of Wrestlemania. I distinctly remember Wrestlemania 22 in Chicago, hearing the loudest one-sided reaction opposite me I’ve ever heard. Since then it’s been like that. It’s been eight years now. That stuff doesn’t transfer. The few audience members that it does transfer, they don’t have a proper sense of what’s going on.