Season 7, Episode 10

From football to phonics, with Malcolm Mitchell

Growing up, Malcolm Mitchell considered reading and academics to be a bare minimum means to get the opportunity to play football. While his journey with football led to playing in the NFL, the work he is most proud of today is his literacy work and his own journey of learning to love reading, advocating for literacy, and writing children’s books. In this conversation with Susan Lambert at the 2023 Plain Talk Conference—where Malcolm was the keynote speaker—Malcolm dives into his own process of teaching himself to become a proficient reader at the age of 19. Through the lens of his own struggles and triumphs, Malcolm shares a powerful testimony to the importance of cultural connection, access to books, community building, and understanding the true “why” behind reading to get students motivated to read.

Meet our guest(s):

Malcolm Mitchell

Malcolm Mitchell, a native of Valdosta, Georgia, and an Under Armour All-American football player, developed a love of reading during his freshman year in college. He authored and published the children’s book, The Magician’s Hat, created a youth literacy initiative called Read with Malcolm, and went on to establish the nonprofit Magic Foundation organization, with a sole purpose—to transform children’s lives through literacy.

His inspirational story has been featured nationally on CBS Evening News, CBS Sunday Morning, CBS Sports, ESPN, in USA Today, CNN, MSNBC and the NFL Network and has been used by many schools as encouragement for students to embrace the importance of reading. In May 2016, Malcolm was drafted by the New England Patriots, and in 2017 he became a Super Bowl champion. Malcolm has earned numerous awards and accomplishments both on and off the field, but considers discovering a love of reading one of his greatest achievements.

Meet our host, Susan Lambert

Susan Lambert is the Chief Academic Officer of Elementary Humanities at Amplify, and the host of Science of Reading: The Podcast. Her career has been focused on creating high-quality learning environments using evidence-based practices. Susan is a mom of four, a grandma of four, a world traveler, and a collector of stories.

As the host of Science of Reading: The Podcast, Susan explores the increasing body of scientific research around how reading is best taught. As a former classroom teacher, administrator, and curriculum developer, Susan is dedicated to turning theory into best practices that educators can put right to use in the classroom, and to showcasing national models of reading instruction excellence.


“Reading is the most self empowering tool a person could possess.” —Malcolm Mitchell
“So many of these successful people were saying the same thing. I thought to myself, if I want to have any sustainable success in my life, whether I'm an athlete or not, I need to be a proficient reader.” —Malcolm Mitchell