For Tor’i Brooks, there was never any dilemma between a career in sports and one in marketing. He wanted to have both.

“I started in Michigan, with some big dreams about professional sports and marketing and advertising,” he says. “I wanted to be a professional athlete in any capacity, but I also wanted to start a marketing agency.”

Today, he has both. Known worldwide as Bionic Brooks, Tor’i has an interesting and very unusual athletic career. He’s elevated his personal brand to the point where he has a marketing firm for it where he takes care of the business deals, he gets for his skills and his likeness.

His road to success he has now, however, was everything but easy. Tor’i Brooks came up in the time before the NIL – “name, image, likeness” – rules.

In power since 2021, and dependent on college and state regulations, the NCAA-adopted NIL guidelines came after years and years of debate on whether college athletes should get any form of compensation. Since college athletes were seen and treated as amateurs, the rules stated they weren’t eligible for any form of compensation.

However, that didn’t stop others from profiting from their work or their likeness.

“I was working very hard to make ends meet through college, yet I saw myself on flyers, in ticket sales, and university revenue,” Tor’i Brooks recalls. “When I started at my university, we had maybe 25 people on my track and field team. I won three consecutive national titles, and I brought the team to a national standing and level. So, by the time I left, we had over 125 people on our track and field team. You can’t say that I didn’t have an impact on that.”

Tor’i Brooks’s road to becoming a track and field college athlete wasn’t an easy one. He embarked on it only after his basketball scholarship fell through, and he needed a plan B. Luckily, his athletic prowess transferred into the track and field discipline, getting him a place in a Division I university.

He soon however made another turn in his college sports career. After suffering a knee injury and going through recovery, he went back to basketball playing even better than he had previously. That’s how he got the nickname Bionic Brooks.

Through it all, Tor’i Brooks had no opportunities to put his marketing and advertising prowess to work in a way that would make him money. He did, however, take every opportunity to learn about marketing and practice his skills since one of his dreams outside playing professional basketball was to open his own consultancy.

“I worked in sports marketing for the university, did all the marketing for all the teams and sports teams,” he recalls. “I was working on all the different events for basketball, football, rugby, track and field, and creating marketing materials. This was something I had a big goal in pursuing.”

In 2015, Bionic Brooks moved to California, ready to take his career to the next level. It’s there where all the things he learned through being an athlete started informing his marketing savvy.

For example, his decision to start treating his talent and person as a business, the beginning of his brand, was strongly influenced by the unique style he always had when it came to the court. There was never anyone quite like him, he firmly believed, with talents spanning several sports disciplines, and his sense of showmanship. His unique background eventually landed him a job with the Harlem Globetrotters, but for starters, these traits gave him something to set him apart.

A lot of what he had to do early on in his marketing career was networking. This is something he also learned during his college athletics years when he naturally assumed leadership positions to help new students out on campus. His athletic career also took him places where he got to meet a whole variety of people and learn the off-court skills young athletes so desperately need.

Above all, however, it was his tenacity, discipline, and perseverance of an athlete that helped his marketing career the most.

“Back when I was starting, I had to get all these connections in these networks myself,” he explains. “It’s great that they’re finally giving athletes this platform to be able to build sponsorships and partnerships. But my journey saw me go through being a college athlete and not being able to make money off my name and then work for years to ultimately get to this position.”

Now, even with all this experience as an athlete and a marketer, Tor’i Brooks is always on the lookout for new ways to expand his skills and test himself. One of the ways he’s been doing it is by helping today’s student-athletes navigate all the good and bad of that kind of life through his work with his sister’s Beyond an Athlete organization.

“I just want to continue to push the envelope and help more and more people understand how this stuff works,” he says. “Those kids can control their destiny – it’s all in their mind, and they just need determination and persistence. And we athletes have a whole lot of that.”

 Written in partnership with Luke Lintz.