One Black man’s path to an NFL executive suite

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According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), there are nearly 30 high-ranking Black National Football League team executives: seven general managers and 22 vice-presidents. The MSR recently talked to one of them during an appearance at Oak Park Center in North Minneapolis. 

Kevin Warren’s original plans were to be in Minnesota for a year or so. “I helped [the present Minnesota Vikings ownership group] buy the team, and they asked me to come and work here,” admits Warren, who then was living and working in Phoenix. “But this is my 10th season in Minnesota and my 16th season in the NFL.”

It isn’t the first time Warren, the highest ranking Black team executive working on the business side of things in the NFL, reached a change-of-plans crossroad.

The youngest of seven, Warren was born in Phoenix, Arizona. After his high school graduation, he played college basketball first at Penn, then transferred to Grand Canyon University.

Kevin Warren Photo by Charles Hallman
Kevin Warren
Photo by Charles Hallman

“I wasn’t talented enough to play in the NBA and I didn’t want to bounce around, or I can move on, which I did,” recalls Warren. “I got my MBA at Arizona State University — they had a joint program where you can get your MBA and J.D. [law degree] in four years.”

However, a “serious medical difficulty” with his sister in Indiana forced him to leave school and help her and help raise her children. “I finished my MBA in one year, [moved] to South Bend [and attended Notre Dame], and lived with her in their basement,” he points out.

“I had my life all planned after I left Notre Dame. I was going to graduate from Notre Dame, and I was going to go back and work for the largest law firm in Phoenix and build a sports practice and live happily ever after.”

He instead accepted a job offer at a Chicago law firm “[who] sent me to Kansas City, where I met my wife and we got married. I spent a couple of years in Kansas City working with the firm that did the NCAA investigations. Then I started my own law firm representing college athletes coming out, entertainers and writers, musicians and bands, and broadcasters. I did that for five years.

“I thought I could do more good [for athletes] if I was on  the management side instead of being in a small sports agency with 20 clients or so,” explains Warren, who took a job with the St. Louis Rams. He later left the Rams for a position with the Detroit Lions, where he “tripled my pay and [got] a huge title” and “demanded” a five-year contract.

That demand later proved wise when he lost his job two years later during a management shakeup. “I had three years left on my salary,” says Warren, who returned to Phoenix.

Former Vikings coach Dennis Green later asked him to speak to nearly 50 persons, including Phoenix businessman Reggie Fowler, on how to buy an NFL club. Fowler later called Warren to help him buy the Vikings.

“I take my hat off to Reggie, who made a run to become the first African American man to be a general partner in the league. It didn’t work out for him to be the lead person.”

The new owners asked him to stay after he helped negotiate the team purchase, says Warren, the Vikings’ executive vice-president for legal affairs and chief administrative officer.

“There are kids in this neighborhood that 10-15 years from now could have the opportunity to run an NFL team,” Warren says. “All they really need is some encouragement, some support, some guidance.”

 

Furthermore…

Last week’s signing of Torii Hunter by the Minnesota Twins fills a long-needed leadership void previously created when Hunter left in 2007.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.