As a kid, Ovie Mughelli grew up a fan of the cartoon series “Captain Planet and the Planeteers."
Mughelli’s favorite character from the 1990s environmental TV show was Kwame, the unofficial leader of the Planeteers, who was African-American and possessed the power of the Earth.
“Kwame was a character that really stuck with me,” said Mughelli, a former Porter-Gaud High School football standout. “I think part of what attracted me to his character was that he was an African-American and there were not many African-American superheroes back then. The thing about that show that got my attention was the show’s theme about the environment. All the Captain Planet characters had the same goal — protecting the Earth — and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Mughelli’s love for the "Captain Planet" cartoon combined with his passion for the environment were the inspiration behind his latest project: "Gridiron Green," a 28-page environmental graphic novel, which is set for publication around the NFL's Super Bowl in February.
“People automatically assume that the environment is a political issue, but it’s not a Democratic, Republican or policy issue,” Mughelli said. “It’s all about people. It’s really about the children, all the children, all over the world. That’s why I got involved in environmental issues, because it’s about the future of the planet and the kind of planet we’re going to leave for our children.”
Mughelli, who played nine seasons in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons, is no stranger to the environmental movement. The Ovie Mughelli Foundation has been rooted in environmental issues since its inception in 2009.
It was Laura Turner Seydel who got Mughelli involved with the environmental movement when he was still playing for the Falcons — Seydel’s father, billionaire Ted Turner, was behind the creation of the TV series.
Seydel and Mughelli met at an Atlanta charity fundraising party when the discussion turned to the “Captain Planet and the Planeteers” TV show.
“She started to sing the theme song, 'Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! Heart!' and I was hooked,’” Mughelli said. “I knew this was something that I wanted to be a part of.”
Mughelli’s foundation began to center around environmental issues. He started the Green Football Camp, which combines football, life skills and environmental education. That was followed by the Recycle on the Run relay race, which pits two teams against each other in an obstacle course with environmentally themed brain teasers. And finally the Green Speakers Series, which enables children to hear from environmentally conscious entrepreneurs.
“As an athlete, we drink more water, breath more air than the normal person,” Mughelli said. “We play outside on God’s green Earth, so as athletes we should be more concerned than anybody about the environment. Every professional athlete should be pounding their chest about the environment, but I don’t see many professional athletes speaking out for the planet or being environmental advocates. It boggles my mind.”
For years, Mughelli has been trying to reach a broader audience for his message, especially among children. He’d had an idea about a comic book with an environmental theme and that’s when he came up with the idea for "Gridiron Green."
“What better way to reach kids than through the medium of a comic book,” Mughelli said. “I loved comic books when I was growing up, so I knew there would be an interest as long as I created the right character and the right storyline.”
Josh Elder, a graphic novelist, couldn't agree more and believes that Mughelli’s message will be able to reach its widest audience through comics.
“Comics are the ultimate tool, the most cost-effective, easy to distribute in digital and analog formats to the developed and developing world,” Elder told reporters at the 2018 Comic-Con convention in San Diego. “If the topic is worth exploring, then we want to explore it. We want to tell every story that we can.”
Mughelli, who was a two-time NFL Pro Bowl pick, teamed up with illustrator Matt Bahr to create "Gridiron Green."
The comic’s main character, Obasi, is a professional football player and an environmental activist. When Obasi’s environmental message starts to threaten the bottom line of a couple of corporations, they hire another player within the league to end the running back’s career with a “dirty hit” that leaves Obasi paralyzed.
Obasi is crushed at the news of his injury, but Mother Earth pays him a visit and makes him a "guardian of the planet" with super powers. The similarities between Obasi and Mughelli are no coincidence.
“Of course Obasi is based on me,” Mughelli said, laughing. “What kid doesn’t want to have a comic book about himself. The best part was coming up with the storyline and deciding on which super powers I’d get.”
Mugehlli’s favorite super power came straight from Kwame and Captain Planet: the power to transform the Earth.
“Obasi can create objects from the Earth, like make his fists into stone hammers, so he can handle the bad guys,” Mughelli said.
Mughelli hopes to see "Gridiron Green" shape curriculum in schools and expand into other print and digital platforms. With the help of the United Nation’s Comics Uniting Nations team and UNICEF, Mughelli is hoping to draw the interest of corporations around the world, as well.
“The is the first of what we hope will be a bazillion issues of 'Gridiron Green',” Mughelli said. “We want to do as many issues as Superman or Batman. We think this is an untapped market. There are just not many comics out there that deal with the environment or have an African-American hero. It's a unique genre.”