For many college students, being able to practice sports is a dream come true. Athletic scholarships and collegiate sports are often a steppingstone for a professional career, but they are also an opportunity to improve themselves and be better at their sport of choice.
However, there are downsides to being a college athlete. The NCAA reported in its fall 2021 Student-Athlete Well-Being Study that the rates of reported mental health concerns are two times higher than the previous year. 0. The study cites that the biggest concern for student-athletes were academic performance, their future, and finances.
The good news is that two-thirds of those young athletes know where to seek out help on campus. And even though less than half of them would actually do it, some people are trying to get those athletes the help they need in a way they find convenient.
Tor’i Brooks is one of those people. A Michigan-born entrepreneur, entertainer, and consultant, Tor’i Brooks previously played collegiate basketball before taking his skills to a pro with the Harlem Globe Trotters. Throughout his professional career, he has claimed multiple titles including Nike and New Balance titles, and recently has been focused on empowering the next generation of college athletes.
He started Beyond the Athlete with his sister Tia, an Olympic shot-putter who wanted to provide students with the skills to handle the pressures of being a collegiate athlete while still pursuing their interests outside of sports. In addition to his career as a professional basketball player, Tor’i has worked with organizations such as The Urban League which made him uniquely qualified to work with Tia on this project.
“After I’ve done some curriculum development and rite of passage programming with the National Urban League, she brought me on to help these students handle the pressures of being student-athletes,” says Brooks.
With a career built on a mix of athletic, performance, and business and marketing skills, Tor’i Brooks still remembers all of the hardships he had to go through as a young athlete.
“I had to deal with a lot coming up, from the prejudice about my looks and how I presented myself on the court, to what I decided to wear,” Tor’i Brooks recalls. “I lost my basketball scholarship in senior year, so I switched to track-and-field and was good enough to get an opportunity to go to a Division I institution, Michigan State University. But then I tore my patellar tendon, so I had to have knee surgery for it. Eventually, I went to Davenport University because they allowed me to both play basketball and do track and field.”
Despite all these hurdles, nothing was going to stop him from going after what he wanted. Tor’i Brooks proceeded to create opportunities from drawbacks and always came out on top regardless of what he pursued.
After his knee surgery, he was the most diligent and hard-working patient he could be, cutting down his recovery time to two-thirds of what it was predicted to be. He came back from the surgery even more athletic than he was and decided to branch back out into basketball.
“During that time, I was determined to prove a lot of people wrong. People were doubting me, isolating me because I transferred to a smaller school, but it just added some more fuel to the motivation fire,” he recalls. On the court, this translated into the new moves that got him the nickname Bionic, because people kept asking him if he augmented his knees somehow.
These are just some of the things Tor’i Brooks would like young athletes to understand, how pivoting, perseverance, and discipline can help them get to their goals even when there’s no straight line leading to them. It’s what helped him go from a person who had to leave basketball for another sport to building a career that includes a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters, a position as a director in BallIsLife, a part of Jordan brand commercials, and lots of basketball, three-on-three, and dunking competitions.
But Tor’i’s life wasn’t entirely about basketball and sports. He also has robust skills as a keen businessperson and marketer.
His ability to create a personal brand is something he believes young athletes should know about. Even though it might not seem like a straightforward answer to many of their plights, the opportunities that come from it might be able to help indirectly.
“I feel like I was one of the first people in my area of Michigan to start using Instagram and Snapchat stories to promote different things and to show an inside look into my life, back in 2011 or 2012,” he recalls. “I got ridiculed for that all the time. But that didn’t stop me. I had big goals of working within my community and being a leader at my school.”
If nothing else, Tor’i Brooks helps young athletes learn enough about those things so that they can avoid being exploited.
“I help them understand their name, likeness, and image, and understand what it’s like to be an athlete, both on the court and off,” Tor’i Brooks explains. “How to interact socially, how to build a brand, how to manage mental health through hardships, whether they’re dealing with injuries, a lack of playing time, whatever. It is just holistically supporting them, to help them get through these tough times.”
Written in partnership with Luke Lintz
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