Big Ten Forum Will Allow Athletes to Voice Concerns About Racism
With the nation in turmoil, Kevin Warren wants the Big Ten to be involved in tackling an issue that has left many cities under siege.
The conference will form the Big Ten Conference Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition, the first black commissioner of a Power Five conference announced Monday.
It will be a forum for student-athletes, coaches, athletic directors, chancellors, presidents and others to discuss problems.
``It is critical that our student-athletes possess their rights to free speech, their rights to peaceful protest and we will work to empower them in creating meaningful change,’’ Warren said. ``George Floyd’s death cannot be in vain.’’
They are lofty words to address a lofty goal. For Warren, the problem of racial violence hits close to home. Before being named to succeed Jim Delany a year ago, he was COO of the Minnesota Vikings. He and his family lived in the metro area where Floyd’s May 25 death sparked nationwide protests.
``As a Black man, I pray every day for the health and safety of my wife and children, especially during interactions with law enforcement,’’ Warren said. ``We continue to see inequality and deep divide regarding how members of the Black community are treated compared to the rest of society and too often, the results have been horrific and senseless. Such racism and inequality are pervasive, not just endemic in law enforcement.
``Meaningful change will only occur if, as a nation, we are united, resilient and determined to create difficult, uncomfortable dialogue and take significant tangible action. We all need to strive to make the world a better place.’’
Noting that Floyd joins a long list of racial-violence victims that includes Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and Emmett Till, Warren told the Associated Press, ``This has to stop. We have to build better relationships with law enforcement. They have to be trained better. It has to stop. And we need to do what we can at every and any level to eliminate hate, to eliminate racism. We’re going to take a stance on it in the Big Ten. I’m personally invested in this.’’
Warren said he and his wife, Greta, have decided to donate $100,000 from the Warren Family Foundation to the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights based in Washington, D.C., which focuses on addressing issues regarding racism, hate and voter registration.
The protests against police violence come at an unprecedented time. Athletic officials are trying to resume competition amid the havoc created by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a daunting task for a new commissioner, but Warren is well-equipped for his new job. As an undergrad, he played basketball at Penn and Grand Canyon, obtained an MBA at Arizona State and is a Notre Dame law school graduate. He was the highest-ranking minority official in the NFL. He knows the world of the student-athlete as well as sports administration.
That said, resuming college football in a pandemic is uncharted territory. The NCAA is allowing voluntary workouts beginning today.
``These next 30 to 40 days are going to be critical,’’ Warren said. ``I’m cautiously optimistic. But every single day in the month of June and the first part of July, will be critical for us to truly understand all the health and safety issues that will help us make a proper decision as we go into the fall.’’
As with every conference trying to restart football, Warren knows careful decisions must be made. How to minimize the chance of Covid-19 episodes and how to deal with them if they do occur are delicate matters.
``I trust our chancellors, our presidents and our athletic directors and our coaches and our student-athletes,’’ he said. ``I trust our people on our campus that they’re going to do the right thing, that they will always put the health and wellness and safety of our student athletes front and center.’’
That said, Warren is very involved in the Big Ten’s Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition.
``I may look back over my career, my entire career,’’ he said, ``and forming this coalition and the work that comes out of it could end up having the biggest impact on society than anything else I’ve ever done.’’