When most of the world – or at least the portion that run sports blogs – found out that former NFL quarterback Scott Mitchell had joined the cast of NBC's The Biggest Loser, their reaction was pretty much what you'd expect: predictably cruel, with the odd mention of Jared Lorenzen thrown in for good measure.
Of course, when news broke that Mitchell, whose weight had ballooned to 366 pounds following his 12-year NFL career, was taking part in the show, shooting had already been underway for more than a month. So he didn't get a chance to read any of the jokes being made at his expense. Though, to be honest, he's sort of used to criticisms by now.
"I knew people would be real harsh, but unfortunately in my athletic career, I have taken a lot of shots, and quite frankly, I think they're unjustified," he says. "But I looked at my life and realized I'd rather take all the shots in the world to overcome something that's a brutal problem in my life and in a lot of people's lives."
Mitchell is one of two ex-NFLers competing on the new season of the show (which premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET on NBC), joining former offensive lineman Damien Woody in the quest for a better life. And despite his claims that his pro career made him impervious to negativity, it was the fear of revealing his weight gain to the world that originally kept him from joining the show.
"I had never watched the show before, but then I learned they were looking for former athletes, and something inside me told me I had to do it," he says. "So I filled out an application online and submitted it, and then I went by the TV station where they were having the audition, got to the front door and chickened out. I couldn’t do it.
"I weighed 366 pounds, more than the offensive linemen I played with. I wasn't ready to bare my soul and my big, fat, pasty body in front of millions of people, so I went home," he continues. "About three weeks later a casting director called me and said they wanted me on the show, so maybe it was divine intervention. My dad passed away in January from complications from diabetes. He was 450 pounds when he passed away, so I saw my future. I saw what was going to happen to me if I didn't take care of this."
Mitchell says that he struggled with his weight throughout his professional football days, but since retiring, things have spiraled out control. He runs a software company in Utah, and, between meetings and business travel, he existed almost entirely on a diet of fast food. Part of his time on The Biggest Loser has been spent breaking those bad habits – "I've learned that in one meal, I was eating as many calories as I eat here in an entire day," he sighs – but more importantly, he's worked with the show's trainers to get to the root of his food issues. And the psychology of his weight loss has proven to be much tougher than any physical aspect.
"When I got here, one of the first things they told me was 'Look, you'll come on the show and you'll lose weight, but if you don't get to the bottom of why you're gaining weight, you're going to be heavy your entire life,'" he explains. "So I've had to surrender to the process, working really hard on the emotional issues in my life. To do it privately is tough, but to do it on television, in front of millions of people, is even tougher."
Still, Mitchell is undaunted. After watching his father lose his life-long battle with obesity, he's determined to make a change. And if people are laughing now, well, that's fine with him.
"For me, it’s not about winning a game show – although I'm really competitive – it's about creating good habits and a healthy foundation to live the best life I can," he says. "It was a very sobering thing to see how bad my health was, and now I realize that if I'm not healthy in my life, I'm going to die. That's the reality of it."