Malcolm Mitchell went from catching passes and winning a Super Bowl with Tom Brady, to becoming full time author and CEO of his own youth literacy foundation.
Drafted by the New England Patriots in 2016, the former wideout founded Read with Malcolm, and is now promoting “My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World.” It’s the story of a student who struggles to read, but learns to overcome that fear to help him accomplish his goals in life.
“That’s kind of my personal story wrapped up in that,” Mitchell told Yahoo Finance Live in a recent interview, who described literacy as a life-changing factor.
As a child, the Valdosta, Georgia native struggled to read himself, “but through a little perseverance, motivation and encouragement from friends [and] family I began to use books as an avenue to express myself, so much that I became a picture book author,” he explained.
Mitchell developed an interest in books and reading during his career at University of Georgia, where he played college football. In his senior year, the literacy advocate decided to write his first children’s book, “The Magician’s Hat.”
However, at that time, there were strict NCAA rules that barred college athletes from making business deals, so he had to do all the legwork to get his book published. Currently, the NCAA has approved a new policy that allows college athletes to get paid for their name, image and likeness.
Reacting to the new changes, Mitchell said that he“ probably would've done more than one” money-making deal back when he was a college athlete. He encouraged others to follow similar steps.
“I just encourage the guys to create, come up with their own content. If it's books, if it's T-shirts, if it's software, just put it out there and see what happens,” he said.
“Take advantage of that free marketing because every Saturday that you play, they are saying your name,” Mitchell added.
'Reading made me a better athlete'
In his rookie year rode, Mitchell won Super Bowl LI in a thrilling, historic overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Yet he considers discovering a love of reading one of his greatest achievements.
“For me growing up, there was this disconnect between what I believed reading was for and what it actually does to a person or human being,” Mitchell told Yahoo Finance. And as a young student, he never really saw the point of reading well.
“I believed that you should read [just] to pass class,” he explained. But that attitude changed when he started associating reading with personal growth.
“The truth is reading enhances every aspect of life, including being an athlete. Reading made me a better athlete,” he said.
The Super Bowl champion believes that “reading is the key to us evolving as people, being open-minded, learning new things, being exposed to new concepts, all of those things that are necessary for things to keep moving forward.”
One of Mitchell’s other initiatives involves narrowing the digital gap between low-income students and their counterparts.
The issue took on greater significance last year, as COVID-19 lockdowns disrupted more than a year of schooling, which slowed progress in math and reading for millions of U.S. students. Black and Latino kids were hit the hardest, according to data from the NWEA.
Fortunately, students are back in the classroom this academic school year. New resources from the federal government and Cox Communications are making it easier to ensure kids have access to the internet speed they need when they return home from school.
Mitchell has partnered with Cox to narrow the gap in diverse, low-income neighborhoods through its Connect2Complete program, which provides internet access to eligible K-12 students and families at low cost.
“Technology is no longer an add on, it's almost a necessity for children to be productive in school,” Mitchell explained, adding that his family would have needed similar support when he was growing up.
The pandemic’s impact on learning among students in the earliest grades, showed distinct changes in the growth of basic reading skills during different time periods over the past year, according to a study by Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE).
While families, students and teachers are happy to be back in the classroom, Mitchell explained the pandemic also allowed the opportunity to change the way students learn.
“It's not good or bad. It's just different,” he said.
“How can we, the leaders of the children, find the most effective way to teach, communicate, and help them acquire the knowledge they need to be successful in this society,” he added.
Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv