by Jim Gehman
“My parents were Nigerian immigrants, and when they came to this country, they had to, like most immigrants, go bust their ass to get things done. They came here with next to nothing and both have double-digit number of siblings and had to send money back. So, they had a crazy work ethic and a certain level of accountability that was through the roof. They instilled that into all their children,” Mughelli said.
“They were big on goals. So, when it came to football, I just was so detail-orientated on what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there. Not just being big, fast, and strong, but having that mental game and having that understanding of how to be successful and focus on details is what set me apart from other fullbacks.”
In 2008, Mughelli’s second year with the Falcons, he started the Ovie Mughelli Foundation.
“I always wanted to give back. I was raised that way,” Mughelli said. “We always, through our church ministry, donated our time, our treasures, to help those less advantaged. I wanted to do more with my foundation than just ‘shop with a jock’ or have a bike drive, which are both very important. I don’t to minimize those, but I wanted to find something where I can really make a difference. And things kind of just came together.”
The foundation’s focal point is based on Mughelli’s role as an environmental advocate. Its goal is to educate and inspire the next generation of environmental leaders.
“My first two kids were born premature,” said Mughelli, a husband and father of three. “And just the fact that I almost brought my kids out into a world that could have killed them because of the air pollution in Atlanta at the time, made me want to do what I could to make sure that the planet that I’m leaving to my kids is one that I could be proud of, and one that’s safe. Not many NFL players are really pushing sustainability or environment justice or talking about anything green. No one, actually. So, I’m the first NFL player to have a fully environmental foundation.”
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Mughelli would often speak around the country before large conferences of business and community leaders. He opened many eyes with his speeches.
“It’s fun because we really focus on people of color, children of color, because the environmental movement is a very, very white movement. All the conferences I go to, I say, ‘Look around. Does this room look like America, or even the world?’ It’s always no. It’s always 95 percent or even 98 percent people of non-color. And I’m like, ‘We can’t be successful in this movement if we don’t get everyone involved,’” Mughelli said.
“It’s going to take some uncomfortable conversations and breaking down some walls of unconscious racism. And some conscious as well, where even though with the green jobs coming around, there’s a lot of options for green jobs that are not being made available or pushed in communities of color the same way that they are being pushed in other communities.
“That’s where I feel like I have a real strong opportunity to do something great because I use sports to promote sustainability. Because if an athlete who needs clean air and clean water to play his sport is not pushing for environmental equity or not for pushing to make sure our planet is safe to play sports, then who will? So, I use my platform to join with other people, other organizations, and even now, other athletes. I was calling myself an eco-athlete in 2008, and now there are several eco-athletes in baseball and soccer and tennis, Olympic sports. It’s really fun and I’m excited about where this is going to go.”