Friday, April 12, 2013

Remembering Ralph Wiley

As his son posted above on Twitter, today is the birthday of Ralph Wiley, one of the greatest sportswriters we've seen. For Black sportswriters, he is perhaps the best of the post-civil rights era and influenced so many of us to write with style and cool.

Even though I didn't realize it at the time, I feel blessed that I got to read Wiley at ESPN during my college years before he passed in 2004 at the young age of 52. Re-reading those pieces the last couple years, I see a writer who wasn't afraid to speak his mind and did it while humanizing his subjects. He was intelligent but never lost his edge or his ability to relate to the audience he wrote.

I realized today that I saw in him what I see in James Baldwin. Both were insightful, clever, perceptive, sympathetic and had the balls to say what must be said, not what you think you should say. Baldwin was a witness to his era and so was Ralph Wiley. That's why they still speak to me today - they didn't just record or respond to history, they enlightened it so we could learn from it later.

Wiley's influence can be seen in writers like Jason Whitlock, Scoop Jackson, JA Adande and Bomani Jones. It's seen in The Shadow League, one of my favorite sports websites of the past year. It's seen in former ESPN colleagues like Bill Simmons, who never fails to praise him, and more.

There's a reason I have 3 Wiley books in my Amazon wishlist. Like Hebrews 11:4 said about Cain's brother Abel, he still speaks even though he is dead. Happy Birthday to a great writer, great man and one of my influences. Here's several of his pieces.

From his Sports Illustrated days, he covered the fight between Ray Mancini and Duk Koo Kim and reported on the tragic aftermath.

Wiley's take on a 2002 HBO documentary on OJ Simpson that shows the complexity of Simpson with Black and White people better than the documentary.

Wiley's sympathetic look at Darryl Strawberry in the midst of his troubles. The last line haunted me with its honesty.

A review of 8 Mile - As someone who loved this movie when it came out, it's great to see that Ralph enjoyed it. His critical eye wasn't just limited to sports.

I'll close with sharing Dan Shanoff's Daily Quickie on ESPN from the day after Wiley passed. This was a man who was respected by his peers and gone far too soon.

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