Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, the only African American Power 5 conference commissioner and the former COO of the Minnesota Vikings, has created the Big Ten Conference Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
Floyd, a black man who was in handcuffs at the time, died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. His death has sparked outrage and protests across the country.
In an open letter released by the Big Ten conference on Monday, Warren invited student-athletes, coaches, athletic directors, chancellors, presidents and others to join him.
"I have already received powerful notes of support and interest in joining this coalition and look forward to partnering with the existing diversity councils on our various campuses," wrote Warren, who lived full time with his family in the Minneapolis area for over 15 years when he was with the Vikings. "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."
"We must listen to our young people," he wrote. "Our children and future generations deserve better. We are either part of the problem or part of the solution. The Big Ten Conference will be part of the solution as we actively and constructively combat racism and hate in our country."
Warren and his wife, Greta, also announced a personal, initial gift of $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.
Warren wrote that his children were raised in Minnesota and attended school there before leaving for college, "and the people of the great state of Minnesota are part of the fabric of our entire family."
"As a Black man, I pray every day for the health and safety of my wife and children, especially during interactions with law enforcement," he wrote. "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.
"I will continue to pray, lead and take action to eliminate racism and hate in our country," he wrote.
Warren, one of the most powerful people in college athletics, said he always drives with his briefcase and his wallet in his trunk, so that when he is pulled over, he can keep his hands on the steering wheel and doesn't have to reach into his glove compartment or in his backseat.
"I'm not doing it," he told ESPN. "I'm not putting myself in that position."
Warren said he remembered a time when he was with the Vikings, and the organization was in the midst of building its stadium project -- the largest in Minnesota. Warren and a white Vikings executive parked at the stadium for a meeting at exactly the same time, right next to each other. When they came out of the meeting, they shook hands and went to their respective cars, but Warren couldn't go anywhere. His car had a boot on it.
"Someone was watching," Warren said. "They booted my car. I saved the form they stuck on my windshield. That's why diversity and inclusion is so important in the workplace. [The Vikings executive] never would have had a chance to experience that. He was hurt more than I was hurt because it happens all the time. Those are the systemic examples of racism that exist all the time. All the time. You just get accustomed to dealing with it. You have to keep a stiff upper lip and move on."
Warren waited an hour for somebody to take the boot off, paid the fine and drove to the office.
"That's why, when I do get an opportunity like I have at the Big Ten, to really effectuate change and make the world a better place, it's important," he said. "That's why forming this coalition for anti-racism and anti-hate, I hope this is the most powerful thing that I do in my entire career."
Warren said racism can no longer be ignored, and that while it has been heartbreaking to watch what has unfolded in Minnesota and across the country, he is confident there is enough compassion and heart to change it.
"We have to deal with this now," he said. "There's no talking our way out of this. We have to deal with this now. If there is a silver lining in this, it's that we've been forced now to have to deal with these issues and hopefully we recognize the importance of these issues and do what's right and make sure we do everything we possibly can to save our country and save our people and eliminate hate and racism in our world."