And a Happy Friday to all of you out there. I’m having a fabulous week (more on that in the second item of our post today) and hope you are too.
We begin today’s joy-fest with John Cena, who many of you may not have heard of, but who’s a pretty huge wrestling star in WWE. Cena is beloved and hated both by wrestling fans, but one thing no one can ever dispute is the dude does a TON of charity work as one of the main faces of the sport. He does so much that he’s known to even non-wrestling fans like me as a mensch.
One of Cena’s endorsements is for Cricket Wireless, and recently they filmed a beautiful ad starring Cena, and in a surprise to him, dozens of people who’d written him fan letters expressing how he’d changed their lives were waiting to meet him.
Watch Cena’s reaction when the fans read him the letters, really just beautiful stuff here. If this doesn’t make you tear up, you should drive to the nearest hospital and have them make sure you’re still alive.
**Next up today, I’ve been immersed in U.S. Open tennis qualifying week this week, watching tennis and interviewing up-and-comers and trying-to-get-back-to-the-top players alike. I’ve written about qualifying week before but it is just truly so awesome.
For those who don’t follow the sport, at Grand Slams like next week’s U.S. Open, the Top 100 or so men’s and women’s players get into the main draw automatically. But there are 16 spots on each side that are “won” by players ranked 120-300 or so. These players, who make very little money as pros, scraping by on tiny paychecks, spend four days the week before a Grand Slam event competing with each other. You need to win three matches to advance to the main draw, and it means so, so much to these men and women.
For one thing, just making the main draw of a Slam gives you a $50,000 paycheck, which means little to the Federers and Serenas, but SO much to the players on the lower rungs. Just making it out of qualifying and getting that first-round loser’s check could mean the difference between staying out on tour another year and following your dream, or packing it in. That money could pay for better hotels, having a coach or trainer with you which makes a huge difference, getting better travel and therefore better rest, etc.
For another, so many of these men and women have never been in a Slam, and especially for the American players this week, it would mean so much. That’s why I love qualies week, because these athletes are competing so damn hard, just to get in the tournament.
Selfishly I also love qualies week because the stadium is so much less crowded; you don’t have to wait 15 minutes on line for the bathroom, or for food. There’s room to breathe as you walk around, and the only fans that are there are real tennis fans, not the yahoos who come in at 3:30, have a couple of drinks while talking loudly during the points, then leave.
Also, the qualies are free. That’s right, free. Some of the best athletes you’ll ever see up close cost you nothing. I met Moms and Dads of players this week, ran into dedicated fans, and saw two amazing 15-year-olds on the court whose names you’ll be hearing in the future (remember the names Caty McNally and Amanda Anisimova, they’ll be competing for Grand Slams within a decade.)
Next week is, of course, the Open, and I love almost everything about it, too. But qualies still feels a little bit like a secret, like a hidden passageway to wonderful tennis.
Today’s the last day of qualies, and the emotion is always high. Somebody will fulfill a lifelong dream of making the U.S. Open, while somebody else will fall just short. It’s everything we love about sport, and yeah I’m waxing poetic but it’s deserved.
**Finally today, the great character actor Jay Thomas died Thursday. You may remember him as Eddie LeBec from “Cheers,” or from “Murphy Brown,” or other shows.
But for many of us, he’ll always be the guy who told maybe the best talk-show story ever, every year on Letterman. It stars a young Jay, a stoner friend of his, and the man who played “The Lone Ranger” on TV. It’s pure joy. Enjoy.