Former New England Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell – who retired early due to injuries – is still trying to find his purpose without football.
Malcolm Mitchell had one of the best rookie seasons for a Patriots wide receiver in New England history.
After compiling 32 receptions for 401 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games of action, Mitchell had the game of his life on the NFL’s greatest stage: the Super Bowl. Mitchell memorably came up clutch with six catches for 70 yards in the Pats’ historic 25-point comeback against the Atlanta Falcons, putting an exclamation mark on the first chapter of what was sure to be a thrilling professional career.
And then everything changed.
Mitchell, who had overcome serious leg injuries in his sophomore and junior seasons at Georgia, found himself starting his second season on injured reserve after needing surgery on his right knee… all of this occurring the morning of the regular season opener, to boot. Mitchell attempted to make a comeback all season long, and then again in the summer of 2018, but it was not meant to be.
On August 6 of what would have been his third season with the Patriots, New England waived him from the team. Seven months later, he retired from the NFL altogether and was out of football forever.
According to NBC Sports’ Tim Layden, Mitchell has struggled to find happiness and a sense of purpose in his life since then. A noted advocate of learning to read at an early age – especially after Mitchell himself struggled to read at a high level until college – the former wide receiver has since written a children’s book and plans to write another. He regularly makes appearances around the country, reading to children now and preaching the importance of literacy to our nation’s youth.
Still, it’s a difficult transition to go from playing football your whole life and reaching the pinnacle of that obsession, and then suddenly finding yourself unable to carry on that passion any further.
“I feel enraged…. Useless…Scared,” Mitchell told his mother in a short film he published last August. “You know? I have no memories of myself without football.”
Layden had the opportunity to interview Mitchell not long after the video was shot and released to the public. Their conversations together were both revelatory and emotional, particularly as Mitchell reflected on his identity as a human being without football in his day-to-day life:
"“I guess I knew I would have this breakup with football, someday. I just didn’t know how bad it would be on my mental health. It’s like I’ve been reincarnated, as somebody else. And I don’t want to be anybody else. I have to move on. I know that. I have to come out of this grieving phase, and I’m working on that. I can’t stay here, because if I do, I’m as good as dead.”"
Kudos to both Layden and especially to Mitchell for sharing such a personal look at what it’s like for countless football players who find themselves robbed by injuries of their passion and their purpose, all through no fault of their own.