Ralph Wiley’s Light Touches the Son: The Interview With Cole Wiley Part I

This interview is about what is to come and what we can learn collectively about the intentions of those great whom have come before.

I didn’t want to break this up into parts, but I didn’t want anything to get lost.

Listen there will never be another Ralph Wiley. He’s not coming down the pike anytime soon, especially with the current climate of writing. It is incumbent of all of us to take the form to the next level instead of layin’ in the slop. We all need to challenge ourselves instead of mimicking the destructive models available to us.

Cole Wiley is the evolution of School Daze future, Ralph Wiley is the Willie Mays should have stayed in the Negro League’s respectful past.

He who made sure we divested, please stand up.

Think about that for a moment.

Are we really better off with how it all went down? Who can give Oscar Charleston’s stats? How many home runs did Josh Gibson hit? Did Satchel ever strike anyone out without any defense behind him to field Pop Pop’s blasts as he laughed? Who was Rube Foster? Wasn’t Buck Leonard a bull’s masterful beast? How many women played alongside men and were all stars? Who do we expect to write this? Why should we expect anyone else to? Why do we call others racist when we are left out if we don’t even know what is left out?

Ralph Wiley unfortunately is gone. With his death what the hell have we learned? Why is there this big ass void in Black sports writing? Why…why do we hands sit but hooker short skirt high slit giggle as White writers write White right, as purported talented Black voices remain fish bowled, channel zero watchin’, big eyes bulgin’, me boss, we sick big lipped even though there is mad rebel cause just no one with balls?

I watched a show yesterday where two Black sports writers with eye evil minds shucked and jived with dead president smiles pink sockin’ and flip floppin’ for whose audience?

I just ask of you, what the hell happened? G’damnit! Speak up! Like my daughter used to say as a child, this is excausting! We sit here as ill intenioned folks talk about our people and then slap the shit out of us if we dare speak up leaving us mumbling like punk ass cowards in a jail house shower. Something has got to change. The leashes must come off. I can’t speak for your Pop Cole, but I’ll go out on a limb and say he wouldn’t be down with all this nonsense. Like Anthony Gilbert says, he raised a lot of us. His death was like Daddy going to work and never coming back. We jumped on the beds, ran all through the house, slapped Mom in the mouth, left the milk out like we had no idea what your Dad was all about.

Why are White cats like Tim Wise, Dave Zirin and Charles Modiano catchin’ mad wreck while some Black sports writers are out there trickin’ for a bullshit paycheck?

Will we permit Obama to be our Negro League future or our current Major League Baseball’s culture nullifying past?

Now that I have your attention, I gotta say this was difficult. I mean really difficult. There was a segment where I had to hide my oceanic eyes from Cole’s soul rippin’ you just won’t get it if you don’t death cry. Death is something that either becomes Harlem Renaissance life like strength or the primitive emotional bindings of talented has beens who gave up in the struggle and were eventually a ‘hood champion lost cause. Those of us who yearn to break free from the vulnerable stripping down of our infantile souls come out the other end more knowledgeable, more wise and just a little more complete than we ever envisioned. We should smile for that.

We can’t give up man, we can’t give up!

Cole has some great ideas that I pray we will all get a chance to see develop. I will prop him up without pressure. He has a chance to become great. It is our responsibility to give him the proper support as he aspires to become that which is embedded primitive in all of us. Please do what you can do for anyone just as talented–or not–and see him through.

Cole, I know your Dad was way more than a sports writer. He fought through the struggle of bureaucracy and holds up the tape Usain Bolt breaks. You are you. It would be crazy for us to compare you to your Dad. While I expect great things from you, you have already accomplished many things folks who haven’t lost will never know. Ralph gave you his star son and with you I will run until we all touch the sun.

Michael Tillery: Cole, how are you doing? How have you been? Are you chill and everything?

Cole Wiley: Yeah, everything’s good. I’ve been alright man–been busy. I’ve been working all summer as an editorial assistant on Spike Lee’s new movie, The Miracle at St. Anna and recently started back at school.

MT: You graduated from Harvard Law in 2007?

Cole (left) did what he had to do to finish Harvard Law School. No excuses

CW: Finished there in May of ’07. I then enrolled here at NYU in August of that year in the graduate film program.

MT: Doing research, I found a piece you wrote: Does Harvard Equal The Golden Ticket? In the piece you touch on why your Pop influenced you to go to Harvard Law as opposed to Columbia or NYU because of a simple truth. Obviously, that affected you and you surely must be happy with your decision. How can you most describe your stay at Cambridge?

CW: Well, people ask me a lot if I regret finishing even though I had no intentions of going into law because I’m doing the film thing. I don’t regret that decision at all. The experience itself was great. It was expensive obviously and I had to take out loans. I haven’t started paying them back yet (Cole laughs) so I might have some pause, but seriously, again it was great.

It exceeded my expectations in certain ways. I honestly felt, like a lot of people who don’t come from a wealthy background and don’t have Ivy League legacy and pedigree in their family, that I was going to be out of place.

For the most part, people were pretty cool and down to earth. There were a good number of people who had a similar background–whether Black, White or otherwise. There were obviously a lot of wealthy people but most didn’t go around acting as such.

I got a basis of knowledge in the legal realm. I have an Ivy League degree. People ask me advice and stuff, but I haven’t taken the (NY) bar.

I went through a tremendous growing period during those years in law school. I started a couple of months after my father passed away. I was extremely close to my father, so I was already going through a lot. On top of that, going through the grueling experience of first year law school–which was particularly tough in the first semester–helped me come to grips with what I really wanted to do. In so many ways it was different than what I want to do now. I have the creative freedom to write about anything that I want and I’m grateful Harvard pushed me to find out again, what I wanted to do. I knew after my first year I didn’t want to practice law after working in a corporate law firm in Los Angeles. It was one of those firms that helped people with money to get money and through facilitating transactions I knew I didn’t want to do that.

Some people were telling me to drop out. As a matter of fact, Spike said that to me. I was talking to him about stuff and was pretty sure I wanted to do film since it was something I was always interested in. He told me to cut my losses and get on the film grind.

I couldn’t drop out. No one in my family did this before.

I never envisioned the opportunity of being here. What was I going to do a year and drop out? I thought that I might change what I was doing, but I definitely wasn’t going to drop out.

MT:That degree is something no one can ever take from you.

CW: Exactly. I have the credential. I have the degree. It’s in writing. I can’t read it because it’s in Latin (Cole chuckles), but I did it.

At the end of the day, the whole Harvard thing…other people make a big deal out of it than I do. People automatically assume you are smarter than you actually are. There isn’t much difference between any of the schools I mentioned in the aforementioned article.

I’m not exclusive either in that there have been many who went into Harvard Law and came out wanting to do something else. The divergence I made was no so common, but even still, I’m not the only one to do that.

As a matter of fact, actor Hill Harper, who did a couple of Spike’s films, and is doing CSI now, graduated from Harvard Law and got a dual degree from the Kennedy School of Government and went straight into acting.

I ain’t the first one, but I might be the first that went from Harvard Law to NYU. They pretty much are the top schools in their particular areas.

MT (Anthony Gilbert): Because of your Pop’s style and effectiveness, we are now seeing a second generation of sports writers. The Starting Five is a melting pot of your father’s legacy. Do you think your Pop saw himself as that trailblazer?

CW: I think he may have had moments where he recognized that may have been the case. Certainly starting out, he definitely was conscious that he was the only, or one of the only depending on the market you are talking about, Black sports writers. Especially starting out at the Oakland Tribune then going over to Sports Illustrated–he was on his own. So he recognized those kind of things. He just went to work, wrote his articles, they were good, he became known as the Wizard and at the Tribune they called him the Wiz.

He built up his rep as well as his fan base. When you say he helped create a new generation of sports writers, I don’t know if he had that in mind. On a more personal level, he wanted to make his mark the best way he could by putting good shit out there.

I never knew him to half ass and put something out.

Whether it was an article for Page 2–he was putting out one or two of those a week–or bigger projects like authoring or co-authoring books, writing screenplays or magazine articles.

He never half assed anything.

That was a good example for the young brothas. You gotta work hard and you have to produce good work, but working hard helps you produce good work.

Not just the brothas, but since we’re here, particularly the brothas, the ones I’ve seen, read their work, heard them speak…when they say my Dad influenced their work?  That’s crazy.

MT: Cole he made us want to write even if at the time we initially saw him we weren’t thinking about writing. His stuff floored me. I couldn’t wait to watch the Sports Reporters on Sunday morning. It was like when I was a kid and my Grandmother–God rest her soul–would yell down the basement and say “There’s colored people on The Price is Right!”. We’d run upstairs all excited like one of the contestants was running for President or something. That’s the effect he had on me at least.

CW: Wow. That’s what cats are telling me! I can’t do anything but take your word on that. The full impact on what he meant to these different guys honestly didn’t hit me until he was gone. When he passed away and all of this stuff began to flood in…damn…my Father was really influencing people that I didn’t even grasp.

I was younger at the time. When I was in college, I was off doing my college thing, but I just really didn’t know a surge of these young brothers was burgeoning and bubbling up. I knew there were people who appreciated his work and asked for his advice and he never shunned anyone. He always had time even though during the good times he had like ten different things going on at once. I don’t think it ever hit him to the degree that he was a role model type of figure. I get stuff from cats just coming out or from people who like to read all the time. I get emails and facebook messages or on the street even because they might have seen me on the Classic Wiley documentary.

MT: Cole that was the moment I wanted to interview you. I’ve been chasing you around for two years man. Anybody who knows me knows this.

CW: I don’t know why man.

MT: It’s crazy because I usually can find anybody eventually.

CW: Mike, you are interviewing public figures. I ain’t no public figure.

MT: Yet.

CW: That’s how I began writing for the HOF magazine site. A television producer, Frank Pace, partnered up with Arman Keteyian to start the site. Arman knew my Father from Sports Illustrated. Frank hit me up on instant messenger.

MT: Damn that simple huh?

CW: Yeah he hit me up asking if I wanted to write for the website. They wanted a young voice. I ended up doing like 3 or 4 articles for them. I’d never written anything formal. I’d just been blogging. This guy hit me up and was using my blog in his feature article writing class at FAMU. He said I remind him of a young Ralph Ellison. I was like whoa! You gotta stop there man.

I guess it was a natural gift I picked up from my Pop. He’s a way better writer than I am. He’s probably a much smarter dude than I am–at least at this point. He definitely influenced me. I’m on a different vein going into film work. My website for Heygood Images will be up soon (it’s parked).

MT: The readers here know about my Mom passing. I post the link to help those out there who are suffering in death. My sister and I went through it after she died. I know you went through it. I learned so much about her as well as myself after she died. What did you learn about him and more importantly, what did you learn about Cole Wiley?

CW: Wow, you are going to have me talking for like three hours. Let me try to go through this in steps. There’s a lot I can say about this. Generally, I can say the one thing I’ve learned through death. The death of someone close to you…extremely close to you…is that you don’t realize what’s going on around you until it happens. You find out what really matters.

When my Pops passed away I realized a lot of things. I realized that he knew a lot of people. Like I said before, he also influenced a lot of people. He was just Dad to me. I didn’t see him as Ralph Wiley. More than that, I realized my Father was my best friend. If you asked me who my best friend was a couple of weeks before my father passed away, I probably would have said a homie I grew up with around the way. You know the cat I’d been playing ball with since I was ten…looking at the girls…and all that. Once he passed away, I was like wow…my Father was my best friend. I knew after he was gone that all those important conversations, all the landmarks in life, things that would be happening with me that I would have to tell somebody about, love, work, school, religion–whatever it might be–he would have been the first person that I’d called.

That option wasn’t there anymore. It was gone…

I realized how much I leaned on him as a friend and my Father. That was hurting me for a long time…for a big while.

It was totally unexpected. You know what I’m talking about Mike. When there is an unexpected death of someone close to you, and they didn’t suffer–your Mom was obviously going through a lot because she committed suicide–but in my Father’s case I think he knew he was having some issues. He always had his fear of hospitals and surgery. I was urging him to get there. He was supposed to see a cardiologist the day after he had that heart attack.

Then he was gone in a flash.

When I got that phone call telling me my Father was gone…I was completely broken.

There wasn’t any holding it in. There wasn’t any being strong. I was just gone…just done.

This is the first time I’ve said this in years, but I called my Father Daddy. I was like my Daddy’s gone.

MT: Exactly what I went through brotha. I’m getting emotional just hearing this. I try to tell my three kids all the time to respect the sudden reality of death. Young people have no template for death until it happens. My kids just don’t understand. They are like, “Dad just shut up, you are gonna be an old man…whatever.”

CW: I hear you. My father used to do the same thing. He would have that preparatory talk…”One day I’m not gonna be here.” I would say the same thing your kids are saying.

I don’t think there is any real way to prepare. It’s not so much that you learn about death when it happens, you learn about life. My perceptions of things and people around me are completely different. Part of it is getting older, but I know that whole experience affected me in so many ways. In ways I couldn’t even explain. It definitely helped me grow up fast. I had to take on a whole another level of responsibility. I have an 8 yr. old sister–who at the time was 4.

MT: How is she and your stepmother doing?

CW: I was just with them on Labor Day. We hung out. You know, she’s an 8 yr. old. It’s crazy, but she has a cell phone. Cell phone at 8 yrs. old (Cole and I laugh)? What does she need a cell phone for? She’s sending me text messages and calling me on her cell phone. I kid, but it’s more for safety reasons. She’s smart. She probably got that from her Dad–and of course her Mom too. She’s definitely blood. I can tell when I look at her. It’s exciting to see her growing up. She’s growing up fast. She’s in the third grade now. Times are passing. They actually live in the same neighborhood as my Mother. It’s easier to see them now.

MT: What were some of the simple truths your Dad bombarded you with that dads know so well?

CW: There were so many that you’d have to follow behind me for a week (we laugh). I’d still only recite about 25% of them. A lot of stuff has been ingrained. He was big on being responsible as a man for all your actions. There are no shortcuts. There are no excuses. Certain people can’t afford to be careless–especially in responsibilities. I heard that one a lot.

I got the whole gamut of stuff about being a Black male in American society. Always being conscious of the fact that you are always going to be seen as Black–if not a nigger by certain folks–consciously and subconsciously. Also knowing that you never want to be caught up in the criminal justice system being a Black man.

Generally, navigating social, professional or any kind of relationships you have with people period. Common to be conscious of–not that it should steer and motivate and control your actions. No, you are a human being first just like everyone else. You are putting yourself at a disadvantage if your not. You can’t walk around naive.

I wish that it wasn’t that way, but I still agree with him that it’s always something you should be conscious of.

Knowing the history of what Black folks have gone through.

I don’t need to get into it here. We all know the deal.

He used to say this all the time. It’s something he got from John Wooden: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” Be efficient. Do it right. Don’t rush it. He was really big on talking to me as if we had our own frat…like a Wiley frat. There were only so many people who were in there. Really there was just us two. There were people with the same name, but we had no connection to the Wiley side of the family–which was his Father. His Father was out of the picture when he was really young. He would always tell me that I was a Wiley and that I better never forget that and understand what it means. Everything you do out here is representative of that name. You don’t take no bullshit, and you don’t bullshit. There were so many good things man like finding a good woman. I ain’t married or have any long term deals right now. There’s some dudes that go through there whole life just…I don’t know what they be doin’. You know don’t you?

MT: Yes my brotha, I was one of those (we laugh).

CW: I hear you. You can have your fun, but it gets to a point where that ain’t gonna last.

MT: It ain’t gonna last, trust me on that. You are wise beyond your years young fella. What was your favorite book of his?

CW: You know what? I’ve never had anyone ask me that question. Um…probably Serenity.

Click book pics to order

Probably because it was a personal memoir for him and I hear his voice in it. Even more than Why Black People Tend to Shout,

What Black People Should Do Now,

Dark Witness,

All of the collaboration books he did with Spike. Most of them were essays. There was definitely some profound stuff in there. Like I said, my Dad was a smart dude. They are definitely interesting reads.

Serenity was just so personal. That was my Father. That was his first book. It’s kind of like having a biased eye. It’s like people asking me what my favorite film is. I get that question a lot.

MT:You know I was going to ask you that.

CW: That’s a hard question to answer man because with all forms of art–and this is my opinion–whether it’s films, books, music…paintings, theatre…anything…there is a difference between what you think was the most technically proficient or well stuctured.

Like the Godfather. The Godfather was such a precise film. It was so good at taking you to another world.

I feel like the things that resonate with me and I’m sure other people as well, are the things that you have the most personal identification with. What makes you. What strikes that cord in your heart. Those are the types of things that affect me.

I can listen to all types of music and think it’s quite an accomplishment that this musician was able to accomplish this from scratch.

When you talk about a favorite song? What kind of memories does it bring up in your life? Where does it take you in your own exterior?

That’s why Serenity is my favorite book. It was a lot about my Father’s life. Shit…he has a chapter in the book that he wrote to me. The Tyson chapter starts with Dear Cole:

How can that not be my favorite?

MT: I wrote something for my son Gaston because of an unfortunate experience he had as a baseball player. He was so good, but he quit and I really can’t do anything about it living two states away. I say this to ask how did your thoughts change when you initially read Serenity to when you read it now?

CW: I was a kid when I read that man! It was like…”Oh, this is cool! Dad has a book and he wrote a chapter to me.”

At the time, I just read that chapter and didn’t read anything else. Since then I’ve read the whole book a couple of times. For some reason when his books first came out, I didn’t want to read them then. Most of them came out before I got out of high school. I had the mindset I was going to save them to read until I got older so I could appreciate them more. That’s not to say I wasn’t reading stuff I thought was too heavy because I was reading grown folk material at the time. It was kinda wild.

Reading it now? I’m able to absorb so much with a 26 year old mind as opposed to being 14. I might have read that chapter of Serenity before that. I can’t remember. Did it come out in ’89?

MT: Yes 1989..Another Summer…your Dad was the funky drummer.

CW: Wow (we laugh). I was 7 at the time. I see all my Father’s stuff differently now. I even look over old emails or notes or anything like that. I have my Father’s body of work. It’s available all over the place. I love it because it’s another way I can talk to my Father still. You know? I can hear his voice. A lot of people don’t have stuff like that. They may have a few home videos and that’s about it.

I have a bedroom full of stuff. I’ve read his books, but I haven’t read one quarter of the stuff he has archived. He has all kinds of stuff just sitting up there in my Mother’s house that I still have to go through. When I get the chance to look through it in the next few years I might find all kinds of hidden gems–whether it’s film or some other form of media.

MT: There’s all kinds of stuff you need to get to brotha. Trust me on that.

CW: I know Mike, I know. It’s like a library dude. I’ll get to it. I’m not home enough now to. I have to bring some of that stuff up here with me. I’m one of those dudes who always thinks I have a million stuff to read as it is. I have a book case and duffel bags of stuff I’m trying to get through now.

When I was in law school, I didn’t want to read much else aside from the stuff I had to read. You are reading hours and hours a day.

Casual reading on top of that? Nooo, I think I’ll pass.

Now, it’s different, but yet and still, film school is a lot harder than Harvard Law.

MT: Really?

CW: Oh yeah. It takes a lot more out of you. I don’t really have reading for classes like that, but between the 8 classes that we take and producing films that we have to put out, it’s definitely an intense intellectual process. A lot of it is so hands on. It’s a lot of manual labor involved. Doing shoots on the weekends. Now, I have to run all over the city trying to do casting, location, props, equipment…wardrobe.

That stuff goes on constantly. Because I’m a film maker–as my Father was a writer–I have so much more invested in what I’m doing, as opposed to reading a case, summarize it, brief it, take an exam. It was much more detached than pouring your heart into a screenplay and shooting it and not wanting to fail or putting out a sub par project.

There’s a lot more self doubt involved. There’s more emotional struggle. It’s also much more rewarding on the back end if things turn out well.

I know this is what I want to do for the rest of my life–God willing.

When I was younger, I was always interested in film. My Father knew I could write and he obviously was a talented writer.

We wouldn’t be talking about this right now if he wasn’t. We’re not the only ones who thinks he is.

MT: Correct.

CW: So, he saw me writing stuff at an early age. He always acknowledged that I could write too. The thing is that I always had particular strengths in math and sciences–which was stuff he really wasn’t that good in or maybe didn’t apply himself to do. I was always real good in math. I do math in my sleep. That’s how it was for me. Science just came to me. I actually struggled more writing. It was much more of a process and a much bigger learning curve. I could still turn a phrase. He would try to get me to focus on math and science even though I could write. By the time we were having this conversation, he was freelancing. There were ups and downs. Sometime work was coming in and life was great. Sometimes you were waiting a while to get that next job and you wouldn’t know where that next job was coming from.

MT: Tell me about it.

CW: So it was more than nerve wracking. There were times where we felt the financial crunch…we wouldn’t have cable or go out to eat. It was beans and ox tails and fried baloney. There were times when we had a new TV or a new couch. That’s just the life of an artist. He wanted to push me away from that and push me towards a hard career–a hard science. Something more safe and subtle…something more uh…

MT: Consistent.

CW: Yes. That’s how I ended up on a law school track but he thought I would eventually end up writing and doing film stuff.

He always told me I could do this if I wanted to. He said I could do this.

MT: I personally see film as writing’s evolution. If you choose to do so, writers can tell a story and at least in my opinion, directors put it all out there for all to see. I think you are a tremendous writer. When I did this, I asked those close to me (TSF writers that knew of Cole) if they wanted to ask some questions. The one that was common was why aren’t you a sports writer?

CW: Mike, this has come up a couple of times man. People just assume I wanted to sports write. I know I have the ability to do it well. I grew up watching sports. My Father schooled me while I was watching stuff so I know what I’m looking at. I know I can write. I’m not bragging or boasting. I thought I could do it sufficiently. I know I could have a job somewhere.

Part II.

11 Responses to “Ralph Wiley’s Light Touches the Son: The Interview With Cole Wiley Part I”

  1. Temple3 says:

    Damn, Sun!!

    As a father, it’s heartbreaking to read some of this stuff. It’s inspirational to hear Cole’s words, but I can feel the pain of a father wanting to see the fruition of a dream. I know that he wanted Cole to be his best – whatever the path.

    We are a powerful people with a great legacy and some stiff challenges. Ralph Wiley paved the way. He is close and he is missed…I can almost touch him – in my mind’s eye. I am so pleased that TSF did this. This story belongs here. It’s home.

  2. thebrotherreport says:

    As a son, it makes me wonder if I’ve done enough to carry on what’s been put before me, I know my parents are proud of what I’ve become, but it makes me want to do more.

    As a father, it’s inspiring to see how Ralph Wiley blazed a path for Cole and although he did not see the end result, he did complete the path for Cole to walk. As parents we may not see the end result, but we must complete the path.

    As a writer, it let’s me know that the cause that I write for is worth it.

  3. Rashad says:

    First of Hampton University represent.
    Secondly, I’m calling my dad and telling him I love him
    But thirdly, I have had the opportunity to talk to Cole via email, and he definitely a brother on the up and up, his dad would be proud. Damn good interview, can’t wait for part deux

  4. Cole Wiley says:

    I can’t believe that I talk this much. Haha. Looking forward to the next installment.

    >CW<

  5. Michelle says:

    First, I’d like to say Cole your father was a great writer and he would be very proud of you today. Good luck with all of your projects and I hope all your dreams come true.

    Second, Mizzo Great interview. I second Temple, this is great reading. Positive and once again inspirational.

  6. Eric Daniels says:

    Great interview Mizzo and Cole seems to keeping his father’s legacy alive . Cole I thought your father was crazy when he predicted the 49ers would win the Super Bowl in 1981 (I was 15 at the time) and after the Niners won I had to eat crow and became a fan of your father’s writing and books.

    Very Inspirational indeed

  7. Jemele says:

    Masterful job, Mike. One of your best. Seriously. What you and Cole said about the reality of sudden death was so poignant. Cole, I have three of your father’s books and I was like Mike — rushing to the television to watch him each time he was on Sports Reporters. If there was a Mount Rushmore of sports writers, best believe your father would be on it.

  8. Mizzo says:

    Thanks all. I should have this second part up within the hour. My bed is looking like Stacey Dash right now ;)

  9. [...] on the heels of Cole Wiley’s interview and speaking with many journalists on the subject, one has to wonder if the Black voice is dead in [...]

  10. Big Man says:

    Man, that was a blessing.

    I hope when my son gets older he will be able to look back over our time together like this. It kinda makes me want to get up and get started with my legacy.

  11. Mizzo says:

    Make it happen on both points brotha…make it happen.

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