WWE superstar John Cena is the recipient of this year’s Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. The award, which was announced Thursday, is given each year to an athlete or sports figure who embodies the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy while using sports as a platform.
Cena will receive the award at the Sportsperson of the Year Awards show on Dec. 11 in Los Angeles.
“To have a legacy award of any kind bestowed upon you is tremendous,” Cena said during an interview with The Associated Press. “To be in the company of people who have received this and to receive an honor named after Muhammad Ali is an honor that means so much to me.”
Cena, a 16-time WWE Champion, has become synonymous with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He has granted nearly 600 wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses, which is more than anyone else involved with the program.
“It really is a wonderful match. I never try to downplay that experience because a family has been given one wish and that is to meet you or hang out for an afternoon,” Cena said.
Cena has been involved with the foundation since early in his career with WWE. He has also been an advocate for breast cancer awareness and WWE’s relationship with the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Cena’s younger brother is a survivor of Stage 4 brain cancer due to early detection. He went to WWE in 2012 after seeing what other sports were doing to raise awareness.
“I saw baseball doing the pink bats, football with the pink cleats and I asked why we weren’t doing anything. I pretty much established the connection and years later we have donated millions and helped a lot of people,” he said.
Cena joins Colin Kaepernick (who received it last year), Magic Johnson, Jack Nicklaus, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown and Bill Russell as those who have received the award, which was established by Sports Illustrated in 2008 and renamed to honor Ali in 2015.
Lonnie Ali, Muhammad Ali’s widow, and Sports Illustrated’s editorial staff help select the honorees each year.
Sports Illustrated executive editor Stephen Cannella said in a statement that Cena “might just be the most charitable person in sports, and his dedication to philanthropy richly reflects the spirit of the Ali Legacy Award.”
Cena also sees receiving the award as another important milestone for WWE. He is starring in the film “Bumblebee,” which opens in late December, before returning to the wrestling ring later this month.
“I kind of see this as both WWE and I accepting this. Every accolade like this WWE has been receiving more attention and respect for what we do,” he said. “WWE is my family.”