Ralph Wiley, R.I.P.
I just heard on PTI that sports columnist Ralph Wiley died from a heart attack last night while watching the NBA Finals. While I thought Wiley was a bit too obsessed with race issues, I always found him to be a thoughtful commentator, both in his columns and occasional appearances on ESPN television. He was only 52.
His column archives are at ESPN.
ESPN.com – Wiley, 52, was provocative, respected writer
Ralph Wiley, one of the original Page 2 columnists and former senior writer for Sports Illustrated, died Sunday night at his home in Orlando of heart failure. He was 52 years old.
Wiley joined Page 2 at its inception in November 2000 and had written more than 240 columns for ESPN.com.
“For the past three and a half years, Ralph has produced a body of work that was both exceptional and insightful and arguably the best sports commentary on the web,” said John Walsh, executive vice president and executive editor, ESPN.
Wiley also had appeared on ESPN’s “Sports Reporters” since 1990. He provided regular commentary for ESPN’s SportsCenter and formerly worked as an NFL analyst for NBC.
“Through his perspective and experience, Ralph developed one of the most creative lead voices in the American sports chorus,” added ESPN.com vice president and executive editor Neal Scarbrough. “We were lucky to have him as a big part of ESPN.com.”
Sports Illustrated hired Wiley in 1982, and he remained there for nine years, writing 28 cover stories, many about boxing (most notably, the Mike Tyson trial), baseball and football.
“He clearly brought a unique perspective,” said Roy Johnson, assistant managing editor for Sports Illustrated. “He was never afraid of bringing a consciousness that was often overlooked in the sports world. It was one that valued the athlete and went the extra mile to discover the essense of either their greatness or tragedy.
“At a time when people look at the surface or look at stats, Ralph kind of threw them in the trash, and tried to get to the essense of the athlete.”
His second book, a collection of essays entitled “Why Black People Tend to Shout” was rejected, Wiley estimated, “25 or 30 times” by publishers. The book sold well and also got good reviews. “It is not easy to express how it feels to be a black man in the 1990s,” wrote Alex Raksin in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Ralph Wiley is one of the few who have been able to find just the right tone.”
Wiley’s writing was intentionally provocative. “As an essayist I don’t believe in the fiction of an anonymous observer. Rather than the sham of objectivity, I think you should put your perspective up front. That’s only fair to the reader,” he told Essence in 1993, shortly after the publication of his second book of essays, “What Black People Should Do Now: Dispatches from Near the Vanguard”, was published in 1993.
Wiley’s third book of essays, “Dark Witness: When Black People Should Be Sacrificed (Again)”, was published in 1996. One of the more memorable segments of that book was “Trial of the Century.” Wiley wrote of the O.J. Simpson trial from the perspective of having worked with Simpson on TV just a few years earlier. Wiley’s portrait of the Simpson he knew was less than flattering.