You probably know Malcolm Mitchell from one of the many plays he’s made as a wide receiver at the University of Georgia. Your parents might know him as the football player who joined a women’s book club.
Mitchell now wants to be known as an author and an advocate for children’s literacy.
Mitchell, in between football and class, has written a children’s book titled “The Magician’s Hat.” The book, which will go on sale at many Athens area book stores on Aug. 29, is about a magician named David, whose greatest power isn’t pulling rabbits out of hats but showing just how powerful and positive reading can be.
While Mitchell didn’t intend for the project to mirror his own life and experiences, as he put in more and more work on the project, it became apparent to him that he was David. David’s goal, and thus Mitchell’s, is to show just how beneficial and rewarding reading can be.
“The message is more important than anything else,” Mitchell said. “The message that I am trying to send is that every kid has the opportunity to be able to decide if he likes it or not.”
Mitchell is trying to create opportunities for kids that he did not have. Mitchell doesn’t remember reading children’s books growing up. However, he doesn’t blame his family or his upbringing as a reason for his struggles with reading as a child and as a teenager. He is still proud of how his upbringing has shaped him.
Mitchell read his first children’s book when he got to college, and he now collects and reads different types of books. Mitchell now reads two to three books at time. His favorite series is “The Hunger Games,” while his favorite book is “The Glass Castle.”
Teammate Jay Rome, who has been friends with Mitchell since middle school, isn’t surprised that an element that was nonexistent in Mitchell’s life has become such a driving force.
“Anything out there, whether it be sports related or non-sports related, Malcolm wants to master it,” Rome said. “When you see him do something, you want to see him do it too because he is just so passionate about mastering whatever he is into.”
Mitchell hopes his infectious attitude toward reading spreads to many of the kids he now reads to. Mitchell enjoys going into various elementary schools and reading to kids.
When Mitchell enters a classroom, he is often bombarded with questions about football. But now, he makes it a point to not wear his jersey to these events so fans can see him as something more than a football player.
“Sometimes when you see the jersey it is automatically associated with football,” Mitchell said. “Regardless of what I have on, they are asking football questions. But now I think they are starting to see the main purpose of me being there.”
Mitchell does recognize that his jersey and football skills are part of what made his book possible. But a specific day on the football field put in motion the series of events that has led him to writing a book: the night he tore his ACL.
On Sept. 1, 2013, the Georgia Bulldogs took on the Clemson Tigers in the first game of the season. In the first quarter, Todd Gurley burst through the right side of the line and rumbled for a 75-yard touchdown run. In the endzone, Gurley and his teammates were celebrating and Mitchell jumped in the air to hug Gurley. As Mitchell came down, he landed awkwardly and had to leave the game.
Gurley’s touchdown run was the last time Mitchell saw the field in 2013, as he tore his ACL on the play. Mitchell also missed the first four games of the 2014 campaign as well from lingering issues with the knee.
The knee injury gave Mitchell a lot of downtime, and in his free time he began to pick up reading.
“I’ve always searched for ways to be creative. And when I get injured in 2013, reading picked up,” Mitchell said. “It was one of the hobbies I picked up. And as you read more over time, you get more creative.”
He read as much as he could and ultimately began to do some writing as well. Like all writers, Mitchell was worried about how his writing would be received at first, so he sent most of his drafts to the trash.
But when the CBS Sunday Morning piece about Mitchell joining a women’s book club came out, Mitchell found many of his discarded writings. And at that point, Mitchell wanted to use his new platform for something more. Mitchell decided that he wanted to write a children’s book.
“I began to write these little stories on my own. Children’s books, short stories and even poems. And I thought, ‘Man I would love to do something with that,’” Mitchell said. “And the fact that I was entering more schools to talk about reading. The children’s book just seemed like the perfect thing for me.”
When asked about his injury, Mitchell now looks at it as blessing. While he hopes to never have another injury similar to a torn ACL, he realizes his improved reading, his book and his growing platform would not have been possible without that night in Clemson, South Carolina.
“Without the injury, there is no guarantee that none of this is taking place. And this means so much to me,” Mitchell said. “I wouldn’t want to be without this book. If that means that I wouldn’t have it without having the injury, then I would have the injury.”
In the process of writing and publishing his book, Mitchell has to handle the publishing process on his own.
Per NCAA rules, Mitchell cannot receive any benefits from Georgia to write his book. Mitchell estimates that he’s had to spend about $1,000 to get his book published. Mitchell has also had to set up all of his own interviews and press for the book.
He’s created a website, readwithmalcolm.com, which shows pictures of him reading to various kids as well as his new book. Mitchell has met with the governor of Georgia and has addressed the media at the Southeastern Conference Media Days about his efforts.
At the SEC Media Days, Mitchell beamed while answering questions about his book, why he is writing and the challenges that come with writing a book. Mitchell gladly answers questions about his book, while he tends to avoid talking about Georgia’s ongoing quarterback situation.
Mitchell hopes that his book and efforts show student-athletes can have a positive role in their communities.
“Sometimes you only get praise for on-the-field stuff,” Mitchell said. “To be able to get attention for off-the-field stuff, and to be able to get attention for the off-field stuff is something we definitely deserve as a group.”
When Mitchell and his teammates Jordan Jenkins and John Theus flew to Hoover, Alabama, for the SEC Media Days, Mitchell intended to speak often about his book and goals. While coach Mark Richt and others knew about the book, Jenkins did not.
When he read the book and realized that it was penned by Mitchell, he was hardly surprised.
“I’ve loved reading ever since he was a little kid and Malcolm didn’t start reading and develop that love for reading until he got into college,” Jenkins said. “Just seeing someone who made that flip and then writing their own book, that is a huge accomplishment. I really hope people look into that and give it to their kids.”
The kids are the reason that Mitchell said he writes and reads to classes. He hopes to inspire kids and at the very least encourage them to give reading a chance.
Mitchell had Richt write the foreword to the book and said Richt has been extremely supportive of the project throughout the process.
“As a father you want your children to grow, you want them to chase their dreams but you also want them to be a well-rounded being,” Richt said. “I think that is especially important in the sports culture. I like it. I like the fact that he has embraced reading for himself personally and become an advocate for it.”
As for Mitchell’s future, football is still his focus.
He’s the senior leader of the Bulldogs receiving corps this year and many of the younger pass catchers look up to him. He hopes a strong senior season can warrant a team taking him in the NFL Draft, despite his past knee issues.
Mitchell hasn’t planned out any more books but he hopes to continue writing in the future, especially when his football days are done.
And thanks to his improved reading skills, Mitchell feels much more comfortable about how his mind will hold up once his body is done with football. He processes things quicker and has improved his communication skills, in part because of all the reading he has done.
Mitchell knows that some people won’t see him as anything more than an athlete. And that is OK for him, because he knows how many great opportunities he has been afforded due to his athletic skills.
But he hopes that kids view him differently. He hopes that kids view him as a role model. He hopes that they see the transformative powers that reading have had on Mitchell’s life and pick up the hobby like he did.
“You can decide whether you want to read or not not from a stereotype but from actual experience,” Mitchell said. “And I didn’t get that experience until later on in life. I’m so passionate about the kids. This book is all about having the ability and knowing the opportunities that come through being a better reader.”