Big Ten Commissioner Warren to Step Down, Join Bears as President and CEO | Athletic Business

Big Ten Commissioner Warren to Step Down, Join Bears as President and CEO

Bears

The NFL's Chicago Bears on Thursday announced that now former Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren will assume the role of team president and CEO. 

Warren, 59, boasts 21 years of experience as an NFL executive with the St. Louis Rams (1997-2000), Detroit Lions (2001-03) and Minnesota Vikings (2005-19) and most recently served as Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference (2020-23).

Warren replaces Ted Phillips, who is retiring after 40 seasons with the Bears, including the last 23 as President and CEO. Warren becomes the fifth president in the franchise's 103-year history—following George S. Halas, George "Mugs" Halas Jr., Michael McCaskey and Phillips—the first Black president in Bears annals and the first President and CEO hired from outside the organization.

"Kevin is a man of integrity, respect and excellence, all of which are critical core values of the Chicago Bears, and we welcome his perspective and diverse thought to lead this storied organization," said Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey. "He is a proven leader who has many times stepped outside of his comfort zone to challenge status quo for unconventional growth and prosperity. In this role, Warren will serve in the primary leadership position of the franchise to help bring the next Super Bowl championship trophy home to Bears fans."

"Kevin is going to be a tremendous resource and I am excited to get started with him," said general manager Ryan Poles. "In my time spent with him during the interview process, it quickly became apparent his resumé and business acumen will be a powerful asset to helping improve our organization and ultimately reach our goal to be a championship organization."

Warren will begin official club business in the spring.

"I am honored and recognize the responsibility bestowed upon me to lead the Chicago Bears during this exciting and pivotal time for the franchise," Warren said. "I look forward to building on the rich tradition that started with George Halas and connecting with the unique and vibrant fanbase in Chicago. I join the Chicago Bears with gratitude and drive to carry out and build upon the legacy and spirit of this founding franchise and my predecessors. This is a franchise that is respected in all of professional sports, and I am humbled to be selected as the next President & CEO of the Chicago Bears. I sincerely thank Virginia McCaskey, George McCaskey, the McCaskey family, Ted Phillips and the search team, for the responsibility and trust placed in me to lead the Chicago Bears and deliver championships to Chicago."

Warren, who is an attorney, initially entered the NFL with the Rams, serving as vice president of player programs/football legal counsel from 1997-2000 before being promoted to vice president of football administration. He earned a Super Bowl ring when the Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Warren then joined the Lions as senior vice president of business operations and general counsel. He left Detroit in 2003 to return to his hometown of Phoenix to work for the international law firm Greenberg Traurig. In that role, he represented the Wilf family and Minnesota Vikings ownership group in what became a successful $600 million deal to purchase the franchise.

Wilf later hired Warren to work for the Vikings, a tenure that lasted more than two decades. He served as executive vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer from 2005-14 and chief operating officer (COO) from 2015-19. In Minnesota, Warren was the NFL's highest ranking Black business executive and the first Black COO in league history.

As COO, Warren played an integral role in all business, financial, legal and operational aspects related to U.S. Bank Stadium. He was involved in the design, construction, business, legal and operational components of the new stadium, which opened in 2016 and hosted Super Bowl XXLI on Feb. 4, 2018.

Warren also played an instrumental role in the design, development and planning of Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, the Vikings headquarters in Eagan, Minn. Under his leadership, the Vikings restructured their organization, with an emphasis on broadening the executive team and promoting women to key executive positions.

In 2013, Warren was named a member of the NFL Committee on Workplace Diversity, which is committed to promoting diversity at every level in the league. During Super Bowl LI festivities in Houston in 2017, he was honored with the Texas Southern University Pioneer Award, recognizing his groundbreaking role as an NFL executive and his commitment to championing diversity.

Leading the Big Ten

In 2020, Warren became the sixth Big Ten Commissioner in conference history.

In that role, he secured groundbreaking media rights agreements with CBS, NBC and FOX and the streaming platform, Peacock, that are the most comprehensive and lucrative in all of college sports.

In 2022, Warren formed the Big Ten Foundation to further the commitment of the conference to serve its member institutions' communities through charitable giving and volunteerism. The organization is committed to empowering young people with the educational resources and tools they need to build responsible and balanced lifestyles.

This past summer, Warren announced that the Big Ten had voted unanimously to admit UCLA and USC into the conference effective Aug. 2, 2024. The expansion will increase the footprint of the Big Ten across the country's three largest media markets in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

This past July, Warren led a delegation of Big Ten student-athletes and administrators to Selma and Montgomery, Ala., for an experience entitled: Big Life Series: Selma to Montgomery. The pilgrimage to one of the key centers of the civil rights movement was highlighted by a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, which is the site of the 1965 Bloody Sunday attack.

To honor George Taliaferro—an Indiana University product who became the first Black player to be drafted by an NFL team when the Bears selected him in 1949—Warren created the George and Viola Taliaferro Fellowship. The fellowship provides individuals who have not historically had access to collegiate conference office leadership positions the opportunity to work in the office of the commissioner and gain valuable experience in the sports and business sectors.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, Warren held the first Big Ten Women's Leadership Summit this past June, featuring more than 75 student-athletes, coaches and administrators.

In 2021, Warren created the Big Ten Mental Health and Wellness Cabinet. Its goal is to improve student-athlete mental health through education, prevention, advocacy, mental health care, research and policy development. The Cabinet launched a series of initiatives to address issues associated with mental health and wellness, social justice, voter registration and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd in 2020, Warren wrote an open letter announcing the formation of the Big Ten Equality Coalition to help eliminate racism and hate in society through inclusion, empowerment and accountability. The United States Library of Congress selected Warren's letter for inclusion in its historic collection.

A product of the Equality Coalition was the creation of the Big Ten Voter Registration Initiative. The nonpartisan conference-wide collaboration encourages student-athletes to take part in the electoral process.

During the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Warren partnered with member institutions to create the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases. Task Force members represent numerous disciplines across campus healthcare systems and schools of public health to provide counsel and medical advice to ensure the health, safety and wellness of the conference's student-athletes, coaches, administrators and fans.

Giving back

Philanthropy is an important part of Warren's life. In 2012, the Warren family "adopted" Lucy Craft Laney Community School in Minneapolis, a predominantly Black school with 98 percent of its student population coming from underserved communities. Warren and his wife, Greta, have donated more than 5,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to Lucy Laney and other Twin Cities elementary schools. The Warren family has also purchased athletic and school uniforms and donated their time mentoring students.

In 2014, the Warrens created Carolyn's Comforts in conjunction with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. The non-profit has donated $1 million to a pediatric emergency care fund to honor the legacy of his sister, Carolyn Elaine Warren-Knox, who passed away of brain cancer. Since its inception, nearly 800 financial grants have been made to families in need.

In 2017, the Warrens launched "No Doors Closed," a scholarship program benefitting high school students who will be first generation college students.

Warren and Greta also started The Warren Family Foundation in 2019. In 2020, the non-profit organization partnered with The Dewey School of Excellence, an Academy of Urban School Leadership in Chicago, to provide resources ranging from after-school programs, academic workshops, technology and school uniforms to emergency assistance funds.

ESPN presented Warren with the Legacy Award during the Black Sports Business Symposium's Igniting the Future Awards Gala last June at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The award commemorated one of the most impactful business builders and industry leaders. In November 2021, the March of Dimes honored Warren with its prestigious Sports Leadership Award.

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