by Ben Sixsmith
Tuesday, 25
May 2021

Another rich sportstar fails to stand up to the Chinese

John Cena's apology on Taiwan displays an all too familiar lack of courage
by Ben Sixsmith

For years, John Cena was the top star in World Wrestling Entertainment. As the world’s foremost professional wrestling brand was attempting to clean up its image and attract younger viewers, Cena, a charismatic, patriotic American hero, was the perfect fit. At the WWE’s 2011 “Extreme Rules” pay-per-view, Cena was the one to announce to a cheering crowd that US soldiers had killed Osama Bin Laden.

It is jarring, then, to see the wrestler apologising to the Chinese people, in Chinese, for the heinous crime of calling Taiwan a country. The horror! However can those poor souls forgive him?

Sadly, this is not surprising. Cena has always been known as a company man. He was a loyal representative of WWE chairman Vince McMahon, who wheeled Cena out for ambassadorial events around the world. Moreover, as a star of the umpteenth new film in the Fast and Furious series, Cena has no wish to endanger its success in the lucrative Chinese markets.

But why does a man, who has reached the uppermost peaks of his professions and is worth tens of millions dollars, feel obliged to submit to such a mealy-mouthed apology?

One should not throw charges of moral cowardice around lightly, but it is a shame to see people who are well-placed to defend a point of principle decide against it. No one is expecting Mr Cena to challenge Xi Jinping to a Hell in a Cell match at Wrestlemania, but politely refusing to apologise — or not refusing at all — for something inoffensive should not be too much to ask.

There is hardly a shortage of celebrities willing to offer their opinions on fashionable causes. LeBron James, for example, the great basketball player, has been such a vocal advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement that he published a photograph of the police officer who shot Ma’Khia Bryant — a 16-year-old girl who was attempting to stab a fellow teenager. When it comes to the Chinese, though, he was quick to censure intra-NBA criticism of its government. Again, the least he could have said was nothing.

China is not the only subject on which integrity has been found wanting. Before Harvey Weinstein was exposed as a sexual predator, as Kyle Smith mordantly explored in National Review, there was a conspiracy of silence in Hollywood surrounding his less than subtle misdemeanours. Once there were no professional repercussions attached to speaking out against him, of course, celebrities were queuing up to grandstand about #MeToo.

I use celebrities only as an example of a depressing fact about human beings. We refer to “f*ck you money” as being that mystical point at which one is rich enough to achieve blissful independence from the presumptuous demands of bosses, clients or critics. But almost no one achieves it. People with tens of millions of pounds in the bank want to get tens of millions more. People at the top of their professions have no wish to lose their exalted spots. There is no point at which desire lets conscience reign supreme.

As I say, I should not moralise too much about this. I have not been faced with very public moral choices and could not swear I would do better. But we should at least try. Rich and successful people are ten a penny, after all, but people with integrity are a rare breed.

Join the discussion

  • WTF? Taiwan is another country. It has a different name, and everything. Just like Tibet.

    Ah, Tibet. Tibet, Tibet, Tibet. Wonderful Tibet, that stood for so many centuries as a sovereign country at the roof of the world. Glorious Tibet. May we live to see its revival.

  • I recall the stance against Apartheid in the ’70s but next year, the 2021. Football World Cup will be in Qatar – that cradle of International sporting prowess (population <250k).
    How many sportsmen will make inane anti racism statements in a state that underwrites Hamas and calls for the destruction of Israel?

  • He’ll soon be apologising for calling his country America if that is their game-plan

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