As the youngest of three siblings growing up in Detroit, Maurice “Moe” Ways got used to being pushed around on the makeshift basketball court with a portable rim that would rotate between the backyard and driveway of his parent’s home. At 5 years old, his sister Faith, 18, and brother Marcus Jr.,17, would block his shots, take the ball from him, and talk trash about his height and game. He’d often end up crying but, ultimately, leaving the court determined to get better. 

As he got older, the blocked shots were less frequent and his skills and confidence grew. Now Ways, 28, looks back on those teary-eyed 2-on-1 games with a fresh perspective. They drove his competitive nature and taught him what it took to play in the big leagues, with people more experienced than him. 

“I knew in order to play with them, I had to add value, be good and compete,” he said. “My family is competitive when it comes to sports and I always told them I was going to be the best one in the family.” 

‘It’s Important For Us to Tell Our Stories’

Ways has taken those hard-charging underdog skills he learned early on at the basketball court to his newest venture, as the youngest of the four-man leadership team behind the opening of Sports Rap Radio, which they tout as the first all-Black sports talk radio station in the country. The network is slated to launch in its first market, Detroit, Ways’ hometown, in mid-May.

Ways’ partners include veteran sports columnist Rob Parker, who has been in the industry for nearly four decades, and spearheaded the Sports Rap Radio initiative. Ways met Parker in high school, while doing an assignment on Parker’s award-winning career. The other partners include former NBA player B.J. Armstrong and former UConn football player Dave Kenney. Sports Rap Radio will offer an all-Black lineup of hosts and journalists along with local programming from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, and be hosted by the app Audacy. 

“It’s important for us to tell our stories, to give our perspective, and to give our viewpoints,” Ways said. “A lot of times I think our story and perspective is given by somebody else who doesn’t look like us. So it’s not always accurate, because there are cultural norms or things you just know by being in the Black community and society and can’t explain.”

For Ways’ family, the excellence bar has always been high. Almost 30 years ago, his father, Marcus R. Ways, Sr. started his own church in their living room — the Christian Gospel Center Church of God in Christ —  which has since grown to a 50-church network. His mother, Patricia Ways, earned degrees in both nursing and the law. His great-grandfather owned and operated several businesses in Georgia. 

Surprising Turns in the Road

Despite coming from an athletic family, Ways didn’t always imagine having a career in sports. Though he initially dreamed of playing basketball at Syracuse and then the NBA,  during his sophomore year at Detroit’s Country Day High School he traded one ball for another and joined the school’s football team as a wide receiver. Ways received a full athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan in 2014, where he played for three years before transferring to UC Berkeley and playing his final season.

“Football ended up being my ticket,” Ways said. “It’s been my vehicle in life.” 

 As the child of religious parents, he lives by faith. He questioned if he should keep playing the game he loves. “I thought maybe football is not for me.” He prayed for guidance on his future, but said he did not hear a clear answer. 

“Most of us take silence as an answer to do what we want to do, so that’s what I did,” Ways said, and continued with training. 

Then In March of 2019, while training for the NFL draft with a personal trainer at a gym in Detroit, Ways tore his Achilles tendon. Looking up from the ground of the gym floor in pain and shock from the injury, he knew that football was done for him. 

“I was praying for an answer, but I didn’t think He would give me the answer that way,” Ways said.

Unaware of how much of his identity was wrapped up in being a football player until it was taken away, Ways said he was face-to-face with the toughest battle of his faith. His physical recovery led  into the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, and like the rest of the world, he was forced to figure out a new normal. 

Almost two years after the career-ending injury, Ways took a job at ESPN as a business analyst and soon relocated to New York where was promoted to associate account executive for Disney ad sales.

‘Everyone Talking and Reporting Are the Same’

Ways stayed connected with Parker for ten years after focusing his senior project on him in 2014. At the time, Parker was the host of an evening sports talk show on Detroit’s WDFN AM. The two men made a point to grab dinner whenever they were in the same cities. So it was a no-brainer for Parker to pick Ways as his partner.

“Moe wasn’t your typical 20-something who’s not thinking about life,” Parker says. “He really had ideas and plans and wanted to know what’s the best way to execute.”

Parker has long been an industry watchdog for diversity and began developing the idea for the Sports Rap Radio station in the early 2000s. In June 2020, he wrote a Deadspin article criticizing Detroit’s 97.1 The Ticket for not having any full-time Black hosts. 

Parker questioned how listeners would get “the full story when everyone talking and reporting are the same — basically white men?” He added that not having any Black hosts in a city whose population at the time was 82.7 percent Black was “plain arrogant.”

Less than one month after the release of his article, Rico Beard, a Black sports journalist, was hired as a full-time host for The Ticket. 

Parker also called out New York’s WFAN, writing that they served a city that is “as diverse as they come” but did not have “one single black voice on air” at the time. 

In the years since, national demographics regarding Black radio hosts haven’t improved much. According to Zippia, an estimated 5.7 percent of radio hosts in the country were African American as of 2021. WFAN currently lists two Black hosts for their show lineups, but no Black writers.

‘It’s Not Going to Fail’

Sports Rap Radio aims to be a solution to the longstanding issue of diversity in sports radio coverage. 

“It’s going to be something where we’re going to be able to give opportunity to young journalists and others who may not get that opportunity somewhere else,” Ways said. . “We’re really intentional about wanting this to be a place where we birth the ‘next’. It’s not going to fail.” 

Tony Gray, CEO of the Chicago-based broadcast communication consultant company Gray Communications, said he was rooting for the project to succeed.

“They’ve got a unique product and they’re going to have to market that product to a specific audience,” said Gray, who has been advising local radio stations on strategy for more than two decades and is the sole owner of two radio stations. ”I have my fingers crossed for them that they’ll be successful.” 

Like all of his partners, Ways will continue his day job while collaborating with his business partners virtually along with their local staff members. In addition to daily operations, they are focused on building their sales, social media, and marketing teams.

“You know, playing a team sport, especially football, for us to be successful, everybody has to do their job. Everybody has to win their one-on-one battle,” Ways said, adding that’s why he’s passionate about helping others. “Whether it’s through telling my story, mentoring, or physically giving a helping hand to somebody.”