This article was written by John Frierson for Georgiadogs.com. To view the original article, click here.
Malcolm Mitchell doesn’t play football anymore. Injuries forced the former Georgia wide receiver, who won a Super Bowl in his rookie season with the New England Patriots, to retire from the game almost three full years ago. He was just 25 years old when he hung up his helmet and pads for good.
While that full-time job paid very well and gave him the chance to pursue one of his passions, giving it up has allowed Mitchell to dedicate himself fully to perhaps the most important work of his life.
“I’m a full-time author, full-time leader of my foundation, and I travel around the country speaking on the importance of literacy in under-resourced communities. I would say those three things fill up my professional life pretty well,” he said.
As a Bulldog (2011-15), Mitchell, a Valdosta, Ga., native, caught 174 passes for 2,350 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also caught the book bug.
The story is now well known: Mitchell was a lackluster and indifferent reader when he got to Georgia, but that started to change as he was exposed to more and more. Browsing the aisles at the Athens Barnes & Noble bookstore, he met an older woman who was part of a local book club. Soon, he was a member of the book club, getting exposed to all kinds of books and the wonders of a written tale well told.
And then, it wasn’t enough to read — Mitchell started writing. He wasn’t trying to be the next Richard Wright or Flannery O’Connor, he was trying to tell the stories he had inside. The fire he now felt for reading and the power of stories, he wanted to share that with the world, namely children.
On Aug. 1, 2015, before his senior season at Georgia, Mitchell’s children’s book “The Magician’s Hat” was published. When he wasn’t in class or catching passes (he had a career-high 58 receptions his senior season), Mitchell was telling the story of how he came to fall in love with books and reading and how that led him to write his first book.
“I didn’t grow up a reader, I didn’t grow up immersed in books, and I’d never met an author in my life. So the idea that I could put together a picture book and have the guts to go for it, it doesn’t even feel like it was me,” he said with a laugh.
Once he wrote his first book and had it published, it didn’t take long for Mitchell to know that “something special” was happening. He recalled that during football practice, when the players were stretching, coaches were coming up to him and asking him to sign copies of the book for family members.
“In those moments where football was supposed to be priority No. 1, on the practice field, people were asking me either for a copy or to place a signature on a copy they had already bought,” he said. “That’s when I knew this was just simply, hey, here’s a book.”
Writing wasn’t enough, however. As his professional football career began, Mitchell launched the Share the Magic Foundation, whose mission is “to unlock the potential of young lives through literacy. By introducing book ownership to students in households where reading is not a priority and inspiring below grade-level readers through innovative and inclusive literacy programming, students at risk of academic failure are empowered to read to a better future”
No, Mitchell was not just a football player. He was a writer and an advocate with a message that he wanted to share from coast to coast.
Drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Mitchell started the season opener and caught two passes. He ended his rookie season with 32 receptions, 401 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Mitchell also ended it with a Super Bowl ring after helping the Patriots rally from a (now infamous) 28-3 deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28, in Super Bowl LI. Mitchell caught six passes for 60 yards in the game, including five in the fourth quarter.
A knee injury forced Mitchell to miss the 2017 season and knee issues forced him to retire from the game in 2019, at just 25 years old.
A lot of players might have suddenly found themselves adrift at that point, lost without the game into which they had point so much physical and mental energy. For Mitchell, it was a change, for sure, but he now had more time to pour into his other passions.
“I never thought of a life without football, to be quite frank,” he said. “So all of this feels like a new world, a new universe, a new experience.”
On Dec. 29, 2020, Mitchell published his second children’s book, “My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World.” It’s about Henley, a good kid who isn’t interested in reading. But then Henley finds the book that changes everything.
“It was very intentional, the whole thing, from the cover to the story and just piecing it together,” Mitchell said of his second book. “I think at that point I had become a strategic writer, versus just having an idea and putting it on paper.
“The inspiration for that one was just to connect more deeply with my audience who read ‘The Magician’s Hat,’ because there are two sides to that story. Not only can reading change your life, but sometimes it can be hard to read. That’s what ‘My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World’ really does is tell it from the opposite end. Yeah, reading is great, but that doesn’t make it any less challenging. It’s still hard to do.”
As a football player, Mitchell had a set routine dictated by the team. There was practice, film study and strength and conditioning. The life of an author, however, is more “scattered,” he said.
“It’s best if you can put yourself in a routine but sometimes, without inspiration, a routine doesn’t even matter, so you just sit there staring at the screen,” he said with a laugh.
“I do a lot of reading, a lot of reading. I guarantee there’s not a person who’s ever been a writer who didn’t read all the time. Most of your ideas are generated from content somewhere else, so you spend a lot of time reading. You read more than you write.”
Last Friday night, at the Atlanta History Center, Mitchell’s foundation had its big fundraiser, A Magical Evening of Literacy. The sold-out event raised money to support the Share the Magic Foundation’s Reading With Malcolm literacy program. Mitchell’s coach at Georgia, Mark Richt, was there, as were numerous UGA Athletic Association staff members.
Earlier that day, Richt posted on Twitter a photo of himself with his granddaughter Jadyn. Richt had read Mitchell’s “The Magician’s Hat” during Star Student Day at Prince Avenue Christian School and in the photo, he’s posing with his granddaughter and holding a copy of Mitchell’s book.
Back in 2019, when former Georgia linebacker Randall Godfrey was speaking to about two dozen Alps Road Elementary School students in the school library, there on the shelf in the M section was Mitchell’s “The Magician’s Hat.”
To write something that lasts, with the power to touch countless young lives, that’s a feeling no touchdown catch can match. Mitchell has his calling, his passion, his mission. He may have only had the chance to play one season in the NFL, but he’ll be a reader, a writer, and a literacy advocate for the rest of his life.
Assistant Sports Communications Director John Frierson is the staff writer for the UGA Athletic Association and curator of the ITA Men’s Tennis Hall of Fame. You can find his work at: Frierson Files. He’s also on Twitter: @FriersonFiles and @ITAHallofFame.