June 17, 2004 by

Ralph Wiley


Categories: Media, Sports, Writers/Editors

Ralph Wiley, a sportswriter for ESPN.com, died on June 13 of heart failure. He was 52.
The Memphis native originally planned to enjoy a career in football, but a knee injury dashed those dreams. Instead he earned a degree in business management from Knoxville College and landed a job as a copy boy for The Oakland Tribune. Within in a year, he was writing for the city desk and covering boxing for the sports department.
Sports Illustrated hired Wiley in 1982 to cover baseball, boxing and football. He spent nine years at the magazine, and penned 28 cover stories. When ESPN launched its online presence, Wiley was one of the first columnists hired to provide regular commentary. He wrote more than 240 columns for its Page 2 section and contributed to the “Sports Reporters” and “SportsCenter” shows.
“At a time when the business gets dumber all the time, Ralph Wiley tried to make everything smarter. This he did with his idea and his fine prose, with anger and humor and strut and sass. And fearlessness,” ESPN commentator Mike Lupica said.
Outside of sports, Wiley enjoyed writing biographies and essay collections. His three books on race in America — “Why Black People Tend to Shout: Cold Facts and Wry Views From a Black Man’s World,” “What Black People Should Do Now: Dispatches From Near the Vanguard” and “Dark Witness: When Black People Should Be Sacrificed (Again)” — were well-reviewed by critics and fans alike. He also wrote or co-wrote several biographies, including Dexter Scott King’s memoir, “Growing Up King.” At the time of his death, Wiley and director Spike Lee were collaborating on a script for a sequel to the film, “He Got Game.”
Read Wiley’s Most Recent Columns

36 Responses to Ralph Wiley

  1. Paul tenner

    May his soul rest in peace in eternal bliss and glory. god be with your family and thank you for the many years i enjoyed reading your books and articles. You did the human race and escpecially the black race proud, in voicing your opinions and being a valid voice of dissension, especially that which related to the cancer of racism. God love you, baby!!!

  2. terrance freeman

    When I heard the news, it was like I lost a close friend or relative. His voice especially his commentary were brilliant. Often I took his commentary for granted, anticipating the next one.
    But now its a grim reality that I want here another one. So thank you Ralph for the way you spoke so boldly on race but in a way that didn’t come off as a racist.
    Terrance F.

  3. Greig W.

    I so sorry to hear the news about Ralph Wiley’s death!He was and still is one of the most articulate voice’s Black America has.
    We must remember him,his writings and strive within ourselves to find that well-spoken,articulate voice that the media so often misses when they visit the Black Community.

  4. earl monroe

    I was in Jamaica when I read of Ralph’s passing. I had occasion to meet him on the set of He Got Game. He was a wonderful human being.


    I was very sorry to hear about Ralph Wiley’s death. I enjoyed his commentaries and his interaction with other sports writing. I remember when he was generally the only African American commentator on TV. His voice will be missed. May God bless his family and friends at this time of sorry.

  6. Zeke

    Huge loss — this man was articulate and intelligent, two virtues in short supply in broadcasting. This was NOT a “talking head”. He will be missed.

  7. Jerry Favors

    Mr. Ralph Wiley will be missed for his cutting edge sports commentary and knowledge of sports and society. I have followed Mr. Wiley for years and admired his objective and candid views on race and sports in this country. Few black columist and sports personalities today are unwilling to sacrifice their popularity. Many choose the route of grinning and skinning for the camera. Ralph Wiley spoke his mind and had the intellect to back up his opinion with facts. He will be missed.

  8. David Williams

    This man will truly be missed. I stopped what I was doing and went directly to the internet to confirm that this was the same person who was worthy of all the kind things being said about him.

  9. Brent Edwards

    From a white man who did not always agree but could not wait to hear or read what was next- Page 2 will never again be my first destination. Look up my PapPa. He got there on July 18th. You and he will hit it off.

  10. Fellow High School Classmate

    You made it big in your own rights and on your own terms home boy. We are proud of you. You will be missed but not forgotten. You are truly a GOLDEN WILDCAT.

  11. Carl Edward Smith

    I did not want to belive the answering machine…hey man,Ralph Wiley died. Ray Charles, two best friends, my blood brother and now Ralph.It is almost too much to take. But, I Know Why we Tend to Shout and What we Believe and and I’M SERENE. a SHOUT-OUT TO BROTHER RALPH. Brother Ralph was good.

  12. Anjail (Gigi)

    I am stunned. Ralph (Sly) meant more to me than just a friend. Since our days and times in Knoxville (College) and many cities across the country, over a period of nearly twenty years, we remained conscious of each other. The nature of our relationship was maintained through the bond we forged in our twenties. The spiritual nature of that bond has endured the passages of our distinct lives, and will continue to the end of my days.
    My prayers for serenity and strength to his mother, children and all who loved and cared about him.

  13. john wineberg

    For some silly reason, I had no idea he had passed. I just found out last night. I disagree with you sometimes, but I respect you.I would often see you on Sundays on ESPN. I grew to like you and appreciate your point of view. May you rest in peace. Your family is in my thoughts and prayers

  14. Adam Hamilton

    Good work Ralph. Your eloquent writing, reporting, and comentary was poetic and informative alike. It always made me think deeper about an issue. You will be missed.

  15. skip norris

    I met Ralph Wiley at a Jazz at Lincoln center debate with
    WytonMarsalis and James lincoln Collier. While there, were there many of the brighest men in the world that day in the audience – Cornel West,Stanley Crouch, Albert Murray, and Tom Piazza to name a few).Ralph and I exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes. I found him super intelligent, humourous, insightful, and most of all, SOULFULL.
    His voic will be missed, but he gave us a lot to shoot for. God bless your soul bruh’
    Skip Norris
    Independence Township, Michigan

  16. Jackie SMith

    Ralph, Affectionately known as Butch. It is hard somedays to believe that I can’t call you. I will always carry our family memories in my heart. I placed a tribute to you on my wall in my office at school. It gives me the needed motivation everyday, especially after the tragedy we had at school(Westside High School) in Memphis. Because All a Man Truly has is the integrity of his work. Love Ya Butch

  17. Vance P. Ross

    Ralph Wiley’s eloquence, his mastery of the wirtten word and his courage in speaking to issues demanded that sport include the drama of life. only future generations will know the great loss that this generation endured at Wiley’s passing. He has few peers in his generation; perhaps none. The day will come that he is appreciated as a true man of letters, one that America will count as gifted even as his one of his literary models, Mark Twain. Vance P.Ross

  18. Craighton Barry

    I was just sitting here this evening thinking about the lack of conscience that young people in general have and young atheletes in particular possess. Reading Ralph’s articles always made you think about what it was to be a human being. He was courageous in his style and depth. I truly miss him, and will honor him by introducing young atheletes to his writings. It goes without saying, “Ralph you was and always will be remembered as an American Hero.”



  20. David Mitchell

    I was atruly shocked upon learning of Sly’s passing. We were frat brothers at Knoxville College in Knoxville, TN. In fact, Ralph made me a Kappa. My last conversation with Ralph was about 2 to 3 years ago. He was buying a home and moving from DC to Maryland. We talked about those fun days at KC and we had planned to meet but both of our schedules were so demanding.
    Ralph was always a professional…even in college. Ralph was smart, witty, humble and he was my frat.
    Peace, my brother, you done well.


    I didn’t personally know Ralph but his presence will always be felt when I’m watching ESPN. I only found aout his death a few weeks ago when I saw a tribute to some special people in Sports Illustrated. And today I’m watching an HBO showing about the Tyson/Lewis fight there’s Ralph talking about Iron Mike.
    Miss you much man, God bless you and your family.



  23. TC

    Wow….I’m still stunned. I was out of the country and didn’t have Internet access or what not when he passed and had wondered why his columns weren’t on ESPN. I thought maybe he was moving on to other things. He was one of the rare journalists whose voice stood out. You are missed Ralph. Blessings to your family and loved ones.

  24. RW2CW (Cole)

    RW was more than a writer to me, he was my father, and my best friend. I see that several people whom he knew personally have graced this blog. I know that he would appreciate everything that has been written about him. I am not so sure that I will be able to have such a profound influence on so many people in my lifetime, but I promise that I will give it my best shot. I just finished taping my segment for the documentary that ESPN is compiling about RW’s life and career. Look for that in June everyone.

  25. Donald Perkins Jr

    Mr. Wiley was a credit to his profession and to sports in general. His work will last through all lifetimes just like the great writers from the past and I’am proud to have called him a fraternity brother. Kappa Alpha Psi will sorely miss you my brotha.

  26. Alex Guzman

    I had been a passionate sports fan since my childhood in Argentina, but Ralph Wiley’s work with SI showed me passion – American-style. Through the years, I gained the utmost respect for his contributions on the Sports Reporters and Page 2. On Sunday June 19th, I got the opportunity to see ESPN’s classy tribute to Ralph. May his legacy live on forever.

  27. Donna Conrad

    Ralph was a very sensitive man and caring man. He was on the prep sports beat for the Oakland Tribune at the same time my father was coaching football at Livermore High. He always liked talking with Ralph. My father passed away in 1980. He was 54. Ralph called to offer his condolences to our family. We spoke for awhile about his memories of my father. I felt better for having talked to him. I hope Ralph’s children are doing well around the anniversary of his death. I wanted someway to tell them about how he touched my life.

  28. LeNie Adolphson

    I am shocked to learn that Ralph died last year. My fondest memories of him centered on his guest appearance on the Sports Reporters he was ALWAYS insighful, brilliant, and so on target about everything. Since I returned to college I had not watched ESPN much on Sunday morning. I watched the documentary today on ESPN and it was an excellent tribute. To Ralph’s son, you are a real testament to your father. Your father was a great man and a great father. I will buy his books as soon as possible. Ralph, you inspired many. Rest in Peace Brother

  29. BW

    I couldn’t wait for Ralph to open his mouth or put his pen to paper because I knew his perspective would be thought-provoking, insightful and unique. Even if I didn’t agree (which was rare), Ralph made me question my own viewpoint. That’s how much I respected his opinions.
    We exchanged e-mails on occasion, including one two days before his death when he told me that reason he still wears Pumas is because of Clyde Frazier’s 36-point, 19-assist seventh-game performance against the Lakers in 1970.
    I own all of your books, and it’s those books I most often return to for re-readings. Each time I pick one up, I learn something new. You gave us so much of yourself to us, Ralph. Thank you.

  30. We miss you Ralph

    Thought about you today Mr. Wiley. Remembered how you had a exclusive way with formed thoughts through words.
    You had game, my friend.
    Still missing you.

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