It was a trophy year for Mackenzie Ross “Mack” Hollins ’16 when the wide receiver and special teams player made the jump from Kenan Stadium to the 2018 Super Bowl as a member of the champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Then the year took a turn: an injury and surgery sidelined him, and frustration piled on.
“I wasn’t getting any better,” Hollins said, “and I was going a little crazy.”
About that time, Eagles teammate Brandon Brooks handed Hollins his copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Hollins had been a reluctant reader: “My parents always told me how important reading is, but I loved to ignore it. What’s the easiest way out? Maybe I’ll just watch the movie.”
But with time on his hands, Hollins dove in.
“The majority of stuff I had heard was all about Martin Luther King versus Malcolm X,” Hollins said. “I didn’t know that Malcolm X had switched from saying all white people are bad to saying that all people can be together. That was eye-opening.”
Hollins acknowledges that Denzel Washington did a good job in Malcom X, but the book went deeper and rekindled his interest in reading. He backtracked through reading lists he had skimmed over: The Great Gatsby, a lot of Dickens, contemporary authors like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. “I read Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, all the books I should have read growing up.”
And he wanted to make sure kids didn’t miss out on this pleasure the way he had.
“When I was in Philadelphia, we had Community Monday, an hour of community service,” Hollins said. “I ended up going to Camden, N.J., with my girlfriend. We took on these two kids, and they would come to the house. They wanted to play video games, but I started doing educational stuff. I asked them to name the months of the year. They were 8 or 9, and they could not do the months of the year in order.”
What are you reading now?
“Jon Dorenbos, Life is Magic.” The book’s subtitle is My Inspiring Journey from Tragedy to Self-Discovery; the professional magician and former All-Pro NFL player (and Hollins’ teammate on the Philadelphia Eagles) writes about overcoming a family tragedy as a boy and a life-threatening health crisis that ended his football career.
What’s your desert island book?
“First, Malcom X. After that, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind [by Yuval Noah Harari]; whether you believe everything in it or not, it gets the mind thinking.”
What’s your favorite place to read?
Hollins connected the kids’ lack of knowledge to their own resistance to reading. To them, reading was not cool. Hollins decided that if anyone could change that attitude, it was a young football pro.
He contacted bookstores and began doing public readings of one of his favorites, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. He started an Instagram account, @mackbookmondays, where he posts photos of himself reading his latest favorites. There’s also a contest: Kids can go to @mackbookmondays, check out Hollins dressed as a character from a book and message him the name of the character.
This year the COVID-19 pandemic has limited Hollins to such virtual readings, but he did go offline to host a book drive for underserved children in the Miami area, where he’s now with the Dolphins.
Hollins admits he’s still having to develop a taste for some literature; he’s not into Shakespeare yet. But though his injury has healed, he’s still carrying books everywhere and turning pages whenever he gets a chance.
“I can catch three or four hours a day,” he says of working in reading time. “When I’m getting my legs iced. If you come at lunch, I’ll be reading while I’m eating.”
— Susan Simone