BOSTON -- With palpable emotion, former University of Georgia and New England Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell explained his decision to retire from football at age 26.
Mitchell had not suited up in a game that counted since playing a key role in the Patriots' comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
"The thing that hurts the most is that it was just so unfortunate. It was out of everyone's control," Mitchell said Thursday after he read to elementary school students as part of his work as an advocate for reading. "It was just the way it was supposed to be; unfortunately, it's not the way I think everybody wanted it to be. It's definitely not what I wanted."
Mitchell said in January that he has had 10 surgeries on his knee. At that point, he was still holding out hope of playing again, but things changed over the past two months.
"I was very patient about it," he said. "Obviously, there are doctor's notes and stuff that comes into play, like, 'You'll have arthritis by then. If you keep going, this will be the result.' That was maybe 30 percent of it. But I knew that when I first started having the surgeries.
"I just evaluated my self-worth off the field, and for a long time it never surpassed what I could do on the field. Then, I think being here doing stuff in the community, it started to shift. My self-worth and what I think I can deliver creatively and inspirationally began to surpass -- not monetarily by any means; football pays so much -- the legacy of what I could accomplish as a football player dealing with the injuries that I had."
Mitchell, who had issues with his knee at Georgia, showed great promise in 2016 after the Patriots drafted him in the fourth round. He played in 14 regular-season games (six starts), totaling 32 receptions for 401 yards and four touchdowns.
While many rookie receivers have struggled to earn quarterback Tom Brady's trust over the years, Mitchell gained it quickly. That showed in the second half of Super Bowl LI when the Patriots stormed back from a 28-3 deficit in the second half, with Mitchell contributing five receptions for 63 yards in the fourth quarter.
"Just think about how that played out and where I am today -- it's kind of mind-blowing," Mitchell said. "So whatever higher power, whatever force, whatever anything -- however you want to phrase it -- gave me enough time to accomplish something millions of people hope to and never will. I have that and am very thankful for it. That's something that, regardless of what happens to me next, won't go away."
As for what's next for him, Mitchell has plans to write another children's book. He's also delving into fashion design, has an interest in photography and will continue efforts to inspire through his "Read With Malcolm" program.
Mitchell said the transition to his post-playing career has been emotional.
"I'm not 100 percent sure where I'll end up in life," he said. "With football, it's easy to see into the future and build an idea of where you want it to end up. With that gone, it's been a little hazy to see where I'll end up. One thing I hope people in New England know is that I made sure I went out a Patriot."