NFL’s Kevin Warren found faith, fame at GCU
Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the November issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version, click here.
By Ryan Kryska
Nearly four years ago, on a frigid February night in Minneapolis, Kevin Warren drove home with the distinction of having just been named Chief Operating Officer of the Minnesota Vikings.
The promotion made Warren the first and still the only black COO in National Football League history, but the honor still felt bittersweet.
Warren went home to celebrate with his wife, Greta, and children, Peri and Powers, but wished he could have shared the breakthrough for his career and the league with his parents, who set him on a path toward breaking racial barriers, just as they had done.
“They would have been really proud,” Warren said. “That was just an emotional day for me because I wanted to call them and just tell them, just thank them for raising me the way they did and to promise that I was going to do everything within my power to make sure that I continued to set the bar high and open the door for people of color who come after me.”
Warren was raised in the Phoenix area, where his father, Morrison, was one of the first black men to serve as vice mayor of Arizona’s capital. Morrison was also one of the earliest black football players at Arizona State University, where he is a member of the Athletics Hall of Fame. He also was the first black man to be named president of a major college bowl when he headed the Fiesta Bowl in 1981 and 1982.
Warren’s older brother, Morrison Jr., modeled himself after their father, and was one of the first black football players on scholarship at Stanford University in 1961.
Kevin Warren went on to play college basketball for a year at an Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania, before transferring home to GCU for his final two years of undergrad. Warren went on to be one of the most prolific athletes in GCU history.
Keith Baker, the GCU sports information director at the time, said Warren was “just a very high character player, one of the better academic players we’ve ever had.”
His 23.3 points per game average during the 1985-86 season is fourth best in GCU basketball history. His 42-point effort on his 21st birthday, Nov. 17, 1984, ranks as the fourth-highest single-game scoring effort in school history and his 20.0 career average ranks as the fourth best in school history.
“I do not have many regrets at all in my life. But one of the things I wish is that the Havocs had been in business when I was in college,” Warren said, “because I would have really loved to play in front of them. It is a special group of students that are committed, dedicated, loyal and passionate basketball fans.”
More important than sports, however, was the University’s ability to reawaken Warren’s faith.
“I just truly believe it was the Lord tugging at my heart that brought me to Grand Canyon from a spiritual standpoint,” Warren said. “That is really where I started to understand the meaning of life and understand the meaning of a strong spiritual foundation and the importance of having Christ as the center of your life. That is when my life changed forever.”
Warren said his academic experience at GCU was the best he ever had, “even better than going to an Ivy League school.”
“It was a much more qualitative and authentic educational experience at Grand Canyon. It propelled me to where I am today.”
After graduating from GCU in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, Warren earned his master’s degree in Business Administration from ASU in 1988 and his juris doctorate degree from the University of Notre Dame School of Law in 1990.
Warren then went on to work at a law firm specializing in the representation of universities charged with NCAA violations before founding Kevin Warren & Associates, a firm representing professional athletes and entertainers.
After working for the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions (winning Super Bowl XXXIV with the Rams), Warren decided to call Minnesota home and has since been a pioneer of 21st-century management – the Vikings were the first NFL team to have private breastfeeding areas at their stadium. Warren started a women’s platform with the Vikings and promoted multiple women to vice president positions.
“I am surrounded by phenomenal women,” Warren said. “On top of that, I worked for the first and I believe only woman owner and general partner in the NFL when I worked at the Rams with Georgia Frontiere. I have always been focused on making sure women are empowered, that they are provided the opportunity to learn, to grow and be challenged.”
In his personal life, Warren and Greta have pledged to donate $1 million to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital to benefit pediatric cancer patients, provided more than 5,000 backpacks with school supplies to economically challenged elementary students, provided yearly financial support to first-generation college students and created a scholarship at GCU for student-athletes going on to graduate school.
Their daughter, Peri, is a senior at Occidental College, while their son, Powers, is a student-athlete playing football at Mississippi State University.
Peri is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in American studies with a concentration in black studies. Outside of the classroom, she has started a consulting business called New League Social, which aims to help athletes and entertainers develop their legacy off the field. She also founded Busy Bee Foods, which provides organic and yet affordable produce and eggs to people in areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul where healthy food options are limited.
Her dad inspired her to start her businesses.
“I think my dad has driven me to really leave an impact and a legacy and beyond that to help other people,” Peri said. “That is always forefront in my mind and a Warren-Spears mentality.”
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