“I am not into waste. I don’t like seeing people waste time, food, and the biggest pet peeve of all, waste their talents and opportunities,” said Kevin Warren, chief operating officer of the Minnesota Vikings. These words have been Warren’s motto since the age of 12.
At 12 years old, Warren was hit by a car and almost died. He was in traction for six weeks and afterwards in a body cast for about six months. This time period was a pivotal moment in his life.
This is when he learned the essence of gratitude and made the decision to not waste a day moving forward. With that mentality, it’s no surprise Warren has become the success he is.
However, when asked how he became the highest-ranking African American executive working on the business side for a team in the NFL, and the first African American COO, Warrens credits his family and spirituality.
He is the youngest of seven born to educators, and he describes his parents as very disciplined. With expectations of “Yes sir” and “No sir,” there was no wiggle room for foolery when it came to academics.
Warren’s father received his undergrad degree, master’s and Ph.D. from Arizona State University (ASU), served in the war, and was a professor at ASU. He went on to become vice mayor of Phoenix and the first Black president of a major bowl game with the Fiesta Bowl in 1981.
“My father was not very militant,” said Warren, “but he was strong-willed and confident.”
As for his mother, Warren described her as brilliant, the valedictorian of her class. She is “a beautiful lady, spiritually grounded, a sweetheart but a no-nonsense individual as well.”
Even though he came from a disciplined household, Warren said his parents were very good at putting vision and dreams in their heads. They did not have a lot of money, “but my parents still took us on summer vacations to California and dinners occasionally, which opened our minds to what else was out there in the world,” he explained.
This structure helped Warren with most of his life decisions. He earned his bachelor’s in business administration from Grand Canyon University in 1986, his MBA from Arizona State University in 1988, and his Juris Doctorate Degree from the University of Notre Dame School of Law in 1990. He is licensed with the state bar in Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and District of Columbia.
Warren’s older brother Morrison was one of the first African Americans to receive a football student athlete scholarship to Stanford University. Morrison had a great career and the potential to play in the NFL; unfortunately he tore his ACL.
“I grew up hearing about Stanford and Arizona State. Academics was not an option,” says Warren.
Before Warren became the COO of the Vikings, he served as the club’s executive VP for legal affairs and its chief administrative officer. He also worked with the international law firm of Greenberg Traurig from 2003-05.
He spent 2001-03 with the Detroit Lions as senior vice president of business operations and general counsel. He also worked with the St. Louis Rams and was with the organization when they won Super Bowl XXXIV.
When it came to starting a family of his own, Warren used his parents’ strong foundation as a model. He met his wife Greta during his time in Kansas City.
“I knew Greta was the one when she came over to my apartment for the first time and all I had in it was literally a bed,” said Warren. “We ordered pizza, sat on the floor with paper plates, ate dinner and listened to music.”
He credits her for stabilizing their two kids during his career journey. His daughter is now in college and his son is thriving in academics and football at Minnetonka High School.
The release of the movie Concussion brought negative criticism of the ethics of football. Since football has been a part of Warren’s world for such a long time, MSR asked him his thoughts on the concussion issue.
“I am one of those people that focuses on being passionate about whatever you do,” he said. “You have to be smart and prudent, but you have to live your life.
“As far as a concussion [is concerned], people can get concussions from slipping on a swimming pool. My son is passionate about football, he has worked hard at it, and I will support him.”
Asked what is next for him, Warren said, “The first 50 years of my life I have focused on me and my family, and the next 50 years I want to focus on making those around me better. I also want to help this franchise win their first Super Bowl…
“Academically I am not the most talented, work-wise I am not the most talented, but I am going to prepare, over prepare, get up early, stay up late, work hard, be creative, make a difference. Push the envelope, because I never know when that opportunity will come again…
“I think [spirituality and work ethic are] one and the same,” continued Warren. “I think a strong work ethic is a way to express gratitude to God for an opportunity of life and maximizing our God-given abilities.”
Julia Johnson welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.