During the late 1990s, I derived a great deal of pleasure from cheering against the New York Yankees.
The Bronx Bombers dominated Major League Baseball in the six years following the strike-shortened season, winning four World Championships.
The misconception that permeated baseball thinking was that the Yankees were a collection of mercenaries who were assembled by an owner whose financial wherewithal allowed for a seemingly bottomless payroll.
As such, although they initially enjoyed a tremendously broad fanbase, their continued dominance eventually made them almost universally reviled outside of New York.
By 2001, when the Arizona Diamondbacks shocked the baseball world by defeating the Yankees in a thrilling Game 7, the Yankees were despised and even casual fans had hopped aboard the D-backs’ bandwagon in rooting against their pinstriped adversaries.
What does this have to do with pro wrestling?
Well, as alluded to, the parallels between the Yankees and John Cena are countless. At this juncture in his character development arc, Cena sits at a point where the Yankees probably were in around 1999, when they had won three titles in five years and were starting to elicit as much hate and resentment as they were garnering praise and adoration from baseball fans.
In defeating the New York Mets in 2000, the Yankees completed their “heel turn” and became the poster boys for all that ailed MLB—excessive dominance, predictability and an almost bland approach to winning. In short, it was expected that the Yankees would always win and it was sucking the life out of baseball.
These are the same criticisms being leveled against the Cena character. Some will argue his “Superman” persona of being able to seemingly overcome dauntingly oppressive odds have rendered the character stale, needing a heel turn to reinvigorate his role in the company.
I will argue that, just as I discovered in analyzing the late-'90s Yankees, there is merit in stepping back and appreciating a dominant sports (or sports entertainment) entity for what it is.
In the case of the Yankees, following their 2001 collapse against Arizona, it seemed as though they embraced the villainous role, overspending on high priced talent and stockpiling aging veterans. Whenever a prized free agent hit the open market, it seemed as though the Yankees were always in the running and could spend freely.
However, the financial investment did not translate into championships, and it wasn’t until 2009 that the Yankees won another title.
In the nine years between championships, a funny thing happened. I, along with many other fans, realized that the dominant Yankees of years past were not an evil juggernaut.
In fact, they were an honorable team comprised largely of home-grown talent. Free agents brought in were athletes of honor and high character, and the teams that dominated in the '90s were full of athletes who you could identify as role models to your children. Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada. Class personified.
It turns out that the venomous hatred towards the Yankees was misdirected and fostered out of an incorrect perception.
As the wrestling world holds its collective breath to see whether or not the Cena character will turn heel, I believe hindsight will show that perhaps it is best to maintain the status quo. Outside of the ring, Cena is remarkably honorable and marketable, perhaps unlike any other sports or entertainment celebrity.
His charitable work along with his commitment to the men and women of the armed forces is exceptional and commendable. Furthermore, while I may loathe the way his character was booked in the past (i.e., the seemingly limitless invulnerability), I understand the reason why the WWE must have a character like this to appeal to the 12-and-under demographic.
In the event that WWE Creative opts for a full-blown heel turn, I believe it will be a critical mistake. The Cena character, much like the man himself, is one of the few true ‘good guys’ remaining. In short, he is an athlete of honor and high character, and a perfect role model for children.
Much like those Yankees teams of the 1990s.
For that reason, I do not want to see a Cena heel turn. History has proven that a dominant team or athlete should be appreciated for who and what they are, especially when they are the embodiment of traits that are commendable.
I cheered against the Yankees when they were dominating, but once they stopped winning, I found myself longing for a return to dominance.
I’ve cheered against John Cena when he was dominating, but have since stepped back and tried to learn from past mistakes.
I never thought I’d say it, but Cena does not suck. His love for the fans (especially his younger fans and those in the military) is exemplary, and his commitment to the business and the organization should be appreciated and respected.
His role should be that of the dominant face, a prototypically dominant good guy who resists all temptation to allow the negativity to get to him.
He has built a great career so far utilizing this approach, forsaking the heel elements of his early crude rapper persona. While a return to the opposite side of character development would satiate a faction of wrestling fans, it would be a quick fix and nothing more.
The WWE has a unique commodity on its hands with Cena: a character with a prolonged and successful babyface run.
Don’t mess with a good thing. You won’t know how good you had it until it’s gone.