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Michigan’s Ways battles stereotype of black athlete

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — During his first few months as a freshman on campus at Michigan, Moe Ways was alone on an elevator when the doors opened and an older man joined him.

Ways said the man sized him up.

“And he says, ‘Football or basketball?’” Ways said.

This was the jumping off point for Ways, a Michigan receiver who wants to be known as more than just a Michigan receiver, during a speaking engagement on campus last week. He was one of four, joining former Michigan football player Braylon Edwards, and Fab Five members Ray Jackson and Jimmy King, participating in a discussion of “The Black Male Athlete: Who is He and What is He to You?”

Ways, who attended Detroit Country Day and is a junior at Michigan, has been actively working to change perceptions and stereotypes of black male athletes.

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While on the elevator, many thoughts crowded his mind.

“I’m thinking, ‘First off, my parents taught me manners, ‘Hello, how are you doing? My name is. How is your day going?’” Ways told the attendees at Robertson Auditorium in the Ross School of Business. “He skipped that part. Not just that, he didn’t say, ‘Math or science?’ He didn’t say, ‘Ross or medical school?’ He said football or basketball because of what he saw with his two eyes and in his mind he said, ‘He could only be a football player or a basketball player’ because he saw a tall black man on campus at Michigan and said he could only possibly be here for one reason, and that’s sports.

“I wasn’t mad at the man. When I really thought about it, I was mad at the media because (it) praises the black male athlete. They put us on a pedestal because we play on TV every week, we’re entertainers, we’re role models to a younger generation. The same media stereotypes the black male.”

He cited Michigan enrollment data. In the fall of 2016 there were 26,922 undergraduate enrollees. Of that total, 65.49 percent were white students and 4.66 percent were black students.

Ways wants to use his platform as a football player at Michigan to affect change. He has full support from his father, a pastor, and the football coaching staff.

“Coach (Jim) Harbaugh always says just be educated about it,” Ways said after the event. “Believe what you believe, stand for what you stand for, but just know why you stand for that.

“I just want there to be a change. I have a platform here at Michigan. I don’t just want to be looked at as a football player who does well on Saturdays. I want to help individuals, I want to help the community and help young black brothers like me, as well. I’ve always been passionate about my race. I see a lot of black brothers who can be going down a different path if they had somebody to help them. They’ll always have an outlet, so If they could look at me for the outlet and I could help them out, that could help change generations.”

Ways believes other black athletes will continue to be stereotyped as he was that day in the elevator, but he believes by speaking on the subject and engaging in conversation, change can be made.

“We can begin that process,” he said. “The millennials, we’re a different generation, so I feel like if we can affect the millennial generation and get a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at other people that eventually, maybe 25 years from now, that won’t be the case anymore.”

Ways, 21, is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten, and while football is important to him and he hopes to play at the next level. In the bigger picture he wants to own a business, or work in a front office, or be a CEO of a major company. He wants to use his leadership skills and he will always work to encourage change as he is trying now.

“I feel like athletes in general, when they have a platform, you can do so much with it,” Ways said. “Like (former teammate) Jourdan Lewis does a lot on his platform, guys like that who really speak out on issues when it needs to be heard rather than just being there (on social media) for followers. What are you going to do with your platform? I want to use mine for positivity.”