Brook Gardiner is an SVP and General Counsel of MLS NEXT Pro. MLSNEXTPro.com sat down with Brook to discuss his career to date, family, Black History Month, and more.
Brook Gardiner was born in Detroit, Michigan to Dr. Walter Gardiner and Kathryn Gardiner. He was raised in Nashville, Tennessee as the son of an immigrant father from Trinidad and Tobago and an American mother.
Speaking to Brook, it is clear to see the respect and admiration he has for his parents. "They helped push me further because they taught me not to limit myself," said Gardiner. He continued, "The plan was always to try to do things and don't set limits on yourself."
Brook credits his parents for making sure that he and his siblings felt as though anything was possible. "They did a good job of making me and my siblings feel like we were so special in a way," Gardiner said. As is a familiar feeling to most, Brook stated, "I'm really proud of my parents. I want them to be proud of me."
"The best thing about the book was that it had the addresses for all the teams and leagues. I sent a bunch of letters to all the teams to try to get an internship."
Growing up in Nashville, Brook faced different challenges, but he seemed to find not only solutions but also positive lessons to be learned.
"I went to a private school in Nashville where there was not a lot of diversity. Although there were some challenges around that, I think also you develop the skill of being comfortable in situations where you're not like everyone else," said Gardiner.
He attended Princeton as an undergraduate and knew early on what he wanted to do as far as his career path. "I knew I wanted to be involved in sports and I knew I liked to write. My first year at Princeton, I wrote for the Daily Princetonian newspaper, and I was a sportswriter," said Gardiner.
He worked with a young journalist who would go on to be one of the greatest of his generation. "The sports editor was Grant Wahl, the late journalist, but he was the one who assigned me the story that I was covering," Gardiner said.
As Brook neared graduation, he realized that journalism wasn’t a career for him. One book would change the trajectory of his career.
"The book is Careers in Sports and I had it back in 1999. The best thing about the book was that it had the addresses for all the teams and leagues. I sent a bunch of letters to all the teams to try to get an internship or work for a team in any of the different leagues," said Gardiner.
Unfortunately for Brook, he was met with a fair amount of rejection, but all he needed was one yes to change everything.
"There was one person in the book who I noticed because of his bio and picture. He worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL as their general manager. He was the youngest general manager in the league. He was probably one of the only black, if not the only black, general manager in the league," said Gardiner.
He wrote a letter to the GM who would give him the opportunity he needed. That letter led to an internship with the Jaguars. While working in Jacksonville, Brook was going through the Careers in Sports book and noticed one common thread, “a lot of the people who had jobs as general managers, commissioners, and other positions that I thought I would want to one day aspire to happen to be lawyers,” said Gardiner.
That led Brook to apply to law school. He quickly realized that many of the skills required to be a good lawyer were skills he already possessed.
By the time Brook was attending New York University’s School of Law, he was focused on trying to get a job in the sports industry. As a former soccer player himself, he spent his time looking at internships or job opportunities that could get him working in an industry he was passionate about.
“Pursue your passion, find out what you really want to do, and try to do it. No matter how big or how fast it might be or seem,” said Gardiner.
While at NYU School of Law, he won the Larry Fleisher Memorial Foundation Prize. The Larry Fleisher Memorial Foundation Prize is an award for extraordinary achievement in the areas of sports and entertainment law.
"You're always going to be learning. You're always going to be growing and where you start is not where you finish."
After graduating from NYU, Brook began working at a Washington DC law firm before beginning a 13-year career at the NFL. After his time with the NFL, Brook worked at NBCUniversal, where he was Vice President of Labor Relations.
Brook joined MLS NEXT Pro in April 2022. He and his wife currently reside in New York City.
When asked for advice he would give to his younger self, Brook says, "Be really conscious about who you surround yourself with. You want to be around people that motivate you, that push you, that will benefit you." He continued, "You're always going to be learning. You're always going to be growing and where you start is not where you finish. Always learn and gather knowledge and experiences."
Black History Month provides an opportunity to learn about the triumphs and hardships that African Americans have faced, which are a part of our country's history. For Brook, Black History Month has a special personal meaning, "It's a good moment to think and reflect. Think about accomplishments, but also think about who has inspired you and who you can inspire."
When asked about the importance of learning about Black History, Brook says, "We're in such a tough time right now. When you think about people who are trying to mask or erase Black History, it's important that it doesn't get washed over or forgotten."
Staying true to the beliefs instilled by his parents, Brook has been able to accomplish the goals that he set for himself. As for his legacy, Brook says, "I think it was important to me to be able to succeed in a couple of different places." He continues, "It's really about being a mentor in some way; that's the most important thing to me."