John Cena receiving an award named after Muhammad Ali is an insult to Ali’s legacy

It was announced the other week that John Cena will be this year’s recipient of Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, “in recognition of [his] philanthropy work”, citing his contributions to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and other charitable causes.

According to the Associated Press, the award is given annually to athletes who “embody the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy while using sports as a platform”, and was renamed in Ali’s honour in 2015. Mainstream media had long sought to strip Ali of his radicalism, painting him as a mere “humanitarian” whose beliefs and actions transcended politics, but the reality is that for his entire life Muhammad Ali was everything John Cena has never been – a champion of truth and justice, a staunch anti-imperialist and a devoted supporter of revolutionary movements across the world.

Ali famously rejected conscription when drafted to fight in the US’s war against Vietnam in 1967, expressing his solidarity with the Vietnamese people suffering under the imperialist yoke of US aggression, and in turn condemning the violence imposed on black, brown and working class people by the state domestically in his native US. He understood the importance of linking the struggle for liberation of oppressed groups in imperialist countries with those in oppressed countries, and encouraged black people in the US to join revolutionary groups such as the Black Panthers and build a movement on the streets to challenge the racism and imperialism of the United States.

As punishment for his commitment to the anti-war movement, Ali was stripped of his boxing championships and banned from the sport for three years, but remained steadfast in his beliefs regardless of the cost. Meanwhile, John Cena has been nothing but an enthusiastic cheerleader for US imperialism for his entire career, whether it’s through his endless sycophancy and praise toward the US troops who terrorise the globe on a daily basis killing literally millions of people a year, to his passionate speech off-air the end of a 2011 episode of Raw where he sent the entire arena into rapturous celebration over the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death, to his offensive, red-baiting, ultra-jingoistic angle against Rusev and Lana in 2015, to his vapid and inane tweets and videos about America being a land where people of all walks of life have the freedom to live and express themselves however they like, such as this hot mess he posted on Independence Day this year where he bombards the viewer with a barrage of meaningless demographic statistics, while conveniently ignoring stats like how many countries the US is currently bombing, or how many trans people have been murdered purely for existing, or how many Muslims have been on the receiving end of racial abuse, or the total prison population, or how many of those are black men serving double-digit sentences for minor drug offences, or how many children are living in poverty, or how many people have died due to not being able to afford healthcare that is free in the majority of other countries, or how many people are homeless, or how many migrant children are being separated from their parents and being locked in cages…you get my picture. Hell, he worked the Greatest Royal Rumble event in Saudi Arabia and eagerly took part in WWE’s propaganda campaign for the show, thanking the Kingdom for its hospitality, and was booked for the Crown Jewel event a few months later and only backed out about a week beforehand once he realised how much of a PR disaster it was going to be for him. Muhammad Ali he certainly is not.

Should the charity stuff be praised? I guess so to an extent, and it’s clear that he has done a lot for children in need, especially through the Make-A-Wish foundation, but so does every other wrestler on the WWE roster – and besides, I don’t think anyone deserves unconditional praise for doing the very least that’s expected of them, especially for someone with the wealth and status that Cena has. The harsh truth is that Cena benefits from being a person of influence in a world where there is suffering, especially in a country like his where charity is seen as this act of pious beneficence rather than a damning indictment of the social, economic and political structure of the state.

If I had to give the award to someone on the WWE roster, I don’t see how anyone could look any further than Titus O’Neil. The guy seems to always be somewhere on the streets or in schools doing practical, tangible acts of good, with a fraction of the exposure – the guy’s helped hundreds of working class student athletes get college scholarships and ensured that thousands of schoolkids in poor areas have shoes, toys, books and breakfast every morning. Dude’s even working on opening a tuition-free public school in Florida with free transportation, food and uniforms for all its pupils! Not to mention he was one of the few WWE employees with the guts to publicly criticise WWE’s reinstatement of Hulk Hogan into the Hall of Fame after his racist views were revealed to the world. If anyone should be getting an award it’s Titus.

Muhammad Ali was a lifelong opponent of imperialism and the US political establishment, two things that John Cena has ardently embraced and supported for his entire career. To even name them both in the same breath is an insult to Ali, his legacy and all the victims of US imperialism throughout history.

Why Sami Zayn’s victory over Bobby Lashley tonight will be a victory for the anti-imperialist movement

Poor Sami Zayn.

Having consistently been one of the best wrestlers in the world for over a decade, he seems to have found himself inadvertently treading water in what might be not just the worst WWE feud in recent memory but also perhaps the least entertaining series of interactions between two humans in all of recorded history.

Bless him, he’s trying SO hard to make this work and to appear enthusiastic about the garbage he’s been made to participate in. Shame Bobby Lashley isn’t giving him even an inch – but what do you expect from a guy who had the opportunity to show his personality to the world via a full sit-down interview on Raw and spent about 3 minutes of it talking about towels?

There is an interesting subtext to this angle though, and it’s to do with both wrestlers’ backgrounds outside of wrestling. You see, one of the things WWE have done to try and inject a modicum of heat into this feud (since the initial tactic of “let’s put three men in dresses and laugh at them” didn’t work – can’t imagine why) is have Sami bring Lashley’s erstwhile career in the army into question. In the US that’s basically akin to taking a shit on top of a small child in the front row, so naturally it managed to generate some boos and “USA” chants from the minority of spectators who were paying attention.

Now, Sami, for those who don’t know, as well as being Canadian by birth, is Syrian by heritage, and has been quite outspoken on social media about the ongoing situation in the Middle East. He’s an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian resistance and a staunch critic of US foreign policy, including the air strikes that have taken place this year with British and French support. He also posts photos on Instagram of him reading Noam Chomsky books, which is a whole other can of worms I’m not going to get into but is certainly a sign that he’s at least somewhat politically progressive, if a little misguided (Sami’s view of the White Helmets as a benign, positive and apolitical force in Syria being another thing I disagree with).

There is no terrorist organisation greater than the United States government and military when it comes to sheer destruction of settlements, loss of life, breaches of human rights and disdain for democratically-elected governments. My family felt that force in action when the US invaded their homeland in the 1990s and I’m sure Sami feels the same way about what the US is doing in Syria, Palestine, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. I don’t know where Lashley saw combat, if he did at all, but his mere service and subsequent pride in having served makes him as complicit as anyone else in the imposition of US hegemony around the world.

However, rather than condemn Lashley for his complicity in global terrorism, WWE make Sami condemn him for suspectedly¬†not doing so. Is this a deliberate jab at Sami? They definitely know about his heritage, especially after what happened at the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia, where Sami was kept off the show so as to “respect Saudi culture” due to the country’s poor diplomatic relations with Syria (more on Saudi Arabia’s relationship with WWE in a future post). Are WWE rubbing salt on Sami’s wounds by using him as a mouthpiece for their political line?

It’s particularly interesting because since Trump became president WWE have made a very clear effort to avoid any mention of him, so as to not strike any nerves with liberal-minded fans (which is one of the main reasons why Lashley’s return has been so lacklustre, since they can’t bring up his collaboration with Trump at WrestleMania 23 – probably the only thing of note that happened in Lashley’s initial WWE run, save for a piss-poor run with the ECW championship) yet they seem perfectly alright with hitting the people of Syria right where it hurts.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the fact that, at a time when the US military are actively involved in tearing apart Sami’s ancestral homeland, WWE are portraying Sami as disrespectful for doubting Lashley’s military credentials while simultaneously celebrating Lashley’s service can’t possibly be a coincidence. I hope that tonight Sami picks up the win against Lashley then calls him a murderer right to his face. It’s the least they both deserve.