ATHENS — Malcolm Mitchell shook his head and laughed when he was finally asked a non-football question on Wednesday.
“I knew it was coming,” he said excitedly.
And he was ready for it.
Mitchell’s nearly 15-minute chat with the media was split between his athletic side — with talk of injuries, quarterbacks and fall camp — and his creative side — with questions about his newly-published children’s book.
People know Mitchell because of what he does while wearing his No. 26 jersey as a wide receiver for the Georgia Bulldogs. But like his teammates, his interests extend well beyond a 100-yard football field. What Mitchell has been able to do is marry the two, using the platform of being a UGA football player to introduce his interests to the masses.
Mitchell gained notoriety last year for joining a women’s book club to help sate his growing appetite for reading. That grew into a children’s reading advocacy effort, and now Mitchell has penned his first book, “The Magician’s Hat,” which goes on sale Saturday.
“I think once we understand how much influence we have, that’s when we begin to take advantage of it,” said Mitchell, who got NCAA approval to sell his books for $15.95 each. “I think a lot of times we don’t understand, because we’re still kids. We’re still playing a game. We forget about everyone who’s watching us and how much we influence them. I think if we use our platform in such ways you’ll get as much attention off the field as you possibly can.”
Recently, several Georgia players have utilized their platforms as recognizable athletic figures to fuel their creative spirits, entertain or bring attention to causes.
Last summer, Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley released a Star Wars tribute film, Retribution. The 26-minute movie, which Conley shot on campus with an all-student crew, featured cameos by future NFL first-round draft pick Todd Gurley and coach Mark Richt and drew over a half-million views on YouTube.
A rap song by sophomore running back Sony Michel — who goes by Flyguy2stackz on SoundCloud — blared before football games last season in Sanford Stadium. The “UGA Anthem,” a hype jam for the Bulldogs, was released on May 28. And Michel and UGA baseball pitcher David Gonzalez teamed together to release “Like Me.”
“I think athletes in general should take advantage of the platform that they’re on while they’re student-athletes and while people know who they are,” junior running back Brendan Douglas said.
It’s especially effective when these student-athletes want to champion special causes. Where Mitchell used his book to promote reading and childhood literacy, walk-on Georgia lineman Michael Scullin recently turned to publishing to promote awareness about mental wellness and depression.
In late July, Scullin, wrote about his struggle with depression and attempted suicide on the blog “Wish Dish.” The story reached over 50,000 people and elicited a large response, not only directly to Scullin but also on the topic of mental wellness in athletes.
“I didn’t write it for myself,” Scullin said. “I was hoping I could inspire someone or try and change something within another person.”
Putting their personal selves on public display is not always easy for these elite athletes. But it can be tremendously rewarding.
For Mitchell, it required him telling the world that he arrived at Georgia reading barely at a junior high level. But now he’s a published author and one of the first major-college football players in the country to take advantage of the NCAA’s new flexibility regarding their rights to capitalize on their own names.
“I think we’re just being ourselves,” Mitchell said. “A lot of times people are more consumed with us being athletes than even we are and forget that we’re people that can do other things as well. I’m not branching out. I’m just being who I am.”