New England Patriots receiver Malcolm Mitchell was one of the select few honored on April 18 at the America’s Promise Alliance Promise Night gala in New York City. The event marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of America’s Promise Alliance, which focuses on creating opportunities for kids. Mitchell’s organization, Read with Malcolm, is a youth literacy initiative. Before he received his prestigious award, I spoke with Mitchell about what it means to be recognized for his work, and his success as an athlete.
What does it mean to you to be recognized tonight?
It’s awesome! For the majority of my life I’ve been awarded for something athletically, but to be noticed for something outside of that, on such a prestigious platform, makes me feel good.
Does it feel different?
Yes, it’s a little different. Just in the sense of being in a room with different people than I would have before.
What has been your favorite part of this reading initiative?
Seeing the joy that it brings to kids, actually giving a book that they can take home and keep.
Has there been any specific story that has been really inspirational to you?
Yeah, I would say I’ve been to some schools where the students try to give the books back after we give it to them. And once we tell them that they can have it, watching them hug the books, smile, and actually cherish it is everlasting.
How important have books been in your life?
Changed my life completely. Took me to a whole different place, helped me open my mind to experience new things. It just allowed for the gift of reading to really take form, and it has had a huge impact on me.
While at the University of Georgia, you joined an all-female book club in the community. What about your book club in particular has been important to you?
I would say they helped me be open-minded. You know we read some books in the book club that I would never have picked up. Being a part of that group encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone, and in another area really embrace all types of literature.
Did you enjoy those books?
Some of them.
What advice do you have for student athletes who struggle with reading?
I would tell them that reading is something that will help them achieve every athletic goal they set for themselves. The misconception is that being good is good enough, but just being good in athletics is never good enough. To really grow as an athlete you have to grow as an individual.
What was your favorite memory from this year’s football season?
The Super Bowl.
How about other than the Super Bowl?
I don’t know, you know most people would say a touchdown, but you know just being a part of a team that worked that hard everyday, competed at every moment, and getting the outcome based on the results and the effort that you put in is something that just makes you happy.
Who has been the most helpful for you while you’ve transitioned from college to the NFL?
Family helps, but opening the gifts that reading granted me really opened my mind to just embrace it. To be open-minded, you know the obstacles will come with it and you’ll know how to handle it.
Were there any players that you learned a lot from this season?
I watch them all, honestly, and just take it in. A lot of them lead by example, so I just watch and adapt.
How has learning to read better helped you on the football field?
It gave me the ability to retain information at a pace that I couldn’t have before. Lifting weights is exercise for the body; I think reading is exercise for the mind.
Do you have any advice for kids who want to get better at football?
Practice as hard as you can. Every opportunity that you get, try to take advantage of it. Be prepared for every opportunity. That’s more important than anything else because a lot of people think it’s their time, but maybe it’s later. You need to be prepared 24/7 for that.
Photographs: Courtesy of America’s Promise Alliance (top); Maddie Meyer/Getty Images (Mitchell action)