For as long as he can remember, MLS NEXT Pro SVP and General Counsel Brook Gardiner has strived to follow his life's calling.
“Pursue your passion, find out what you really want to do, and try to do it," Gardiner said in a recent interview with MLSNEXTPro.com. "No matter how big or how fast it might be or seem."
The foundation for this powerful mindset was instilled early on. Raised in Nashville, Tennessee as the son of an immigrant father from Trinidad and Tobago and an American mother, Gardiner grew up in a loving, nurturing environment that planted the seeds for his future success.
"They helped push me further because they taught me not to limit myself," Gardiner said of his parents, Dr. Walter Gardiner and Kathryn Gardiner. "The plan was always to try to do things and don't set limits on yourself.
"They did a good job of making me and my siblings feel like we were so special in a way," Gardiner added. "I'm really proud of my parents. I want them to be proud of me."
That's not to say things were always easy for Gardiner, but he found solutions and positive lessons through the adversity.
"I went to a private school in Nashville where there was not a lot of diversity," he said. "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."
Those skills took Gardiner to Princeton University, where he developed a passion for sports journalism and worked alongside a future industry legend.
"The sports editor was Grant Wahl, the late journalist, but he was the one who assigned me the story that I was covering," Gardiner recalled.
As his undergrad career wound down, Gardiner realized his passion for sports went beyond journalism. So he tried a new tack after coming across a life-altering book.
"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.
Most of those letters went unanswered, but one made its way to an executive working for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.
"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.
After interning with the Jaguars, Gardiner went to law school at New York University, winning The Larry Fleisher Memorial Foundation Prize – an award given for extraordinary achievement in the areas of sports and entertainment law – in the process.
Gardiner went on to enjoy a 13-year career in the NFL, followed by a stint as vice president of labor relations at NBCUniversal before joining MLS NEXT Pro in April 2022.
Amid his many successes, Gardiner makes sure to give credit to those who came before him – especially during Black History Month.
"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," he said.
Asked about the importance of celebrating Black History, Gardiner is clear: "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."
Looking back on his achievements, Gardiner feels a sense of pride: "I think it was important to me to be able to succeed in a couple of different places."
Now, the goal is to pass along the same life lessons his parents instilled in him to future generations of African American professionals.
"It's really about being a mentor in some way," Gardiner said. "That's the most important thing to me."