Ovie Mughelli had an impressive career in the NFL as a fullback for the Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons, making All-Pro in 2006 and 2012. Off the field, he has a passion for educating kids and sustainability solutions. He founded the Ovie Mughelli Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting green living to diverse groups through education and the latest technology. The foundation aims to make environmental protection education available to everyone and emphasizes STEM education. We're so excited to partner with Ovie on his project!
There are a few things that inspire my push for environmental justice and diversity in STEM. Growing up, I witnessed many people who didn’t have basic human rights. It really bothered me that they didn’t have someone to speak for them or to fight for them. Justice and fairness have always been important to me. Looking at it now, that was the little super-hero in me even back then. I always wished I could do more and I am lucky that the NFL gave me a platform to do so.
Really, though, my kids are my inspiration. Both my daughter and son were born premature, weighing just 2 pounds. My kids had to fight for their lives in the NICU, and they were kept there even longer because of the of the unsafe air quality in Atlanta. I was terrified, but the idea of the air quality made me even more terrified. What if the doctor hadn’t known about the air quality and the threat it posed? I wondered, are my kids and their grandkids going to have to deal with even worse air quality in the future? I realized a sense of urgency had to be put towards the environment from this very personal reality. Like every parent, I want to give my kids the best. Who doesn't want to give their kids the world? I want to give my kids the world figuratively, and literally. And I can’t do that unless I get everyone excited about making practical lifestyle changes to help our planet by practicing sustainability. The biggest thing I can do is to help everyone change their mindset and day to day activity/behavior.
A comic is a great way to educate diverse groups because it is an art form that appeals to both youth and adults. When I was younger I was into the comic, Captain Planet. Kwame, the main character is young and African and he was doing cool stuff fighting to protect the environment. So the environment was always in the back of my head. Captain Planet inspired my foundation and made me realize that there is a way to educate people and get them excited to make lifestyle changes.
We have the special opportunity to influence millions of people, especially kids of color who have never seen a black environmental superhero. Representation does matter, I don’t care if you’re a black panther or Barack Obama. If a kid sees someone who looks like them doing something that they thought they couldn’t do, that really means something and makes a difference. I really want to focus on spreading awareness and educating all audiences. So I picked fundraising projects that engage and build awareness with diverse audiences, and then we are focusing on building a standards-based curriculum. To use a football reference, I’m picking the projects that would really move the ball down the field. I ask “What will really catapult us, what will take us to the next level?”
To spread awareness we need a social media strategy and ways to engage our audience. To support that goal we are now focused on building our social media team and expanding the comic series to cover all 17 of the UN’s sustainable development goals, with a focus on representing diversity. For the education portion, we need to get the curriculum perfected and then use technology to teach in an engaging manner. Our goal to build an app supports both awareness and education. By tapping into gamification and augmented reality, we can engage kids and make education fun and accessible. We want the curriculum to teach about the environment, and teach sustainability and STEM in an inspiring way.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced is that no one understands how big a problem this is.
"Apathy is real. People think they’ll deal with this next week, next year, or leave it for the next generation. People think we can kick this down the road and it won’t get worse. But it’s going to get worse and we need to make it better now. Environmental issues are such a big arena, and the issue gets pigeonholed into climate change and global warming."
I’ve had to work really hard to educate people on the available solutions for going green and sustainability. Unfortunately, there are so many issues that this one almost gets forgotten, especially in the sports world.
Volunteer around with organizations that combat violence, poverty, or health issues. Find out what makes you feel uncomfortable and then try and fix it. Find out what other people are doing about it, because someone is probably already working on a cause you care about. Not everyone can or wants to start their own foundation, and not everyone needs to. You can find who is working on what you believe in and you can assist them and be part of a team. I was very lucky that the NFL gave me a platform but anyone can make an impact when they unite with others.
I’m fascinated and inspired by Nelson Mandela. When I talk about making sustainability education fun and gamifying the curriculum I sometimes use the phrase “the power of sport.” Mandela said
"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination."
I believe that art and storytelling have the same power. The comic book will speak to a diverse group of people and put sustainability and solutions in a format that will unite people. Everyone loves a good superhero story, a story where justice prevails, and the comic will help people understand that they can be a hero in their time here on our planet.