Distinguished journalist speaks at UNR
April 17, 2003
RENO — Ralph Wiley, one of the leading sportswriters in the country, spoke to more than 50 University of Nevada students on Wednesday in the Alumni Room of the Jot Travis Student Union. Although most of his hour-long speech was about the Mark Twain classic ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and his interpretation of the great novel, Wiley also spoke out against two of the most prominent African-American athletes in the world today, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan.
Rooted in his typical, comical fashion, Wiley thinks celebrity athletes, such as Woods and Jordan, could do more in the African-American community when it comes to controversial issues. Instead, Wiley said, they hide in the shadows. He can’t blame them.
“I don’t know how they sleep at night,” said Wiley, who has written or co-authored 30 books in his journalism career. “I must be true to the scenario. I can’t do what Tiger or Mike does. They’re risking $50, 60 million a year. I’m only risking, what, $60,000? I’ll say this, though. When Tiger is 40, you might see a totally different guy. He’s young and still forming. He’s worried about those 18 majors right now.”
Wiley started his writing career with the Oakland Tribune, where he worked for seven years as a sports columnist. The next ten years he was a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. Wiley’s co-authored books with Johnnie Cochran and former baseball star Eric Davis, as well as the edgy Lee.
The latter is whom he has been collaborating with most recently. Wiley, who also met with two UNR journalism classes yesterday, talked mostly about the racial significance of Huckleberry Finn. His enthusiasm on the subject sparked the interest of Lee, who is seeking to make a contemporary movie depicting the messages Twain was trying to send across to his readers. They are messages Wiley feels thousands of kids aren’t learning now because the public school system has recently banned the book in some areas, citing it’s a racist book.
Wiley couldn’t disagree more.
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“Huckleberry Finn isn’t racist,” Wiley said. “It’s anti-racial.”
Wiley, 50, is almost done writing the screenplay for Lee, who will then seek out actor Denzel Washington to portray the character ‘Jim’. Wiley and Lee hope that through the movie people will then see some of the more subtle messages and the ramifications of them. But, like in all walks of life, he says he can only doing his part, which is write.
“Do the work, then worry about the deal,” said Wiley, who has also worked on screenplays with director John Singleton. “Do the work, then worry about the championships. You can’t have one without the other but you always need to do the work.”
The second part of his quote was directed at three members of the Nevada basketball team who attended the seminar. Todd Okeson, Kevinn Pinkey and Deane Browne all seemed captivated by Wiley’s character and animated stances on racial issues.
Now a distinguished and award-winning author who makes a living primarily by freelance work, Wiley, who is black, currently writes a guest column for ESPN.com. He also has works as a freelancer for The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and National Geographic. Several of his better known books are ‘Why Black People Tend to Shout’ and ‘By Any Means Necessary’ , both of which involved satirical and cultural commentary, Wiley’s trademark.
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