Over the summer, I published an in-depth profile on NFL Pro Bowl fullback Ovie Mughelli and his tremendous work as an eco-athlete and environmental activist who teaches underprivileged youth about the value of “going green.” Mughelli also had plenty of advice to share with Access Athletes regarding his experiences transitioning to the NFL and how to avoid the pitfalls that ultimately take down so many elite athletes.
One piece of advice that really stood out from the rest was Mughelli’s insistence on preparing for your post-athletic career while you're still playing:
"The smart guys got to start the second career during their first career. Because it’s a lot harder to get into that after you finish football. Guys have to use their playing days to leverage their celebrity and to leverage their contacts so that when you finish football you already know what you’re going to do, as opposed to waiting until your done and trying to find yourself."
This bonus Q&A is packed full of exceptional insight from a professional athlete who has risen to the top of his game both on and off the field.
Q: When you first entered the NFL in 2003, what were some of the toughest aspects of adjusting to the NFL lifestyle?
Mughelli: Some of the toughest aspects of adjusting to the NFL lifestyle were you have to fit into something so much bigger at the NFL. Of course, college was always big and particularly crazy because you had your college you had to be mindful of and your family. In the NFL, you kind of are property of your team, the Atlanta Falcons or Baltimore Ravens, or whoever, and you have eyes on you all the time. You really can’t mess up and you can’t make mistakes, and if you do, you will be on TV, you’ll disappoint your team, you’ll disappoint your family, you’ll disappoint everybody, and you could possibly lose your career. I’ve been in instances where as NFL teammates we’ll be out at a lounge or a club, and somebody will step on your shoe, spill a drink on you, or try to fight you, and all you can do really is just walk away. And sometimes run away, because if you choose to forget that you are a multi-million dollar athlete who represents a team who you can’t have bad press, you can really mess up your career. I’d say that getting used to the fame . . . I didn’t have this problem because I was a 4th round draft pick and my parents are from Nigeria and started with nothing and worked their way up to be a doctor and my mom as a business manager. She has a master’s in business and manages my dad’s office. I appreciated the dollar and understood the blessings that I had. It’s very easy for guys to let the money intoxicate them and spend too much, and buy a couple of cars and put rims on all of them and buy a house bigger than what they need. It’s hard to go from college, where you really don’t have a job, to the NFL where it is a job and you have to focus.
Q: What are some of the biggest pitfalls you have encountered so far in your career? According to Sports Illustrated, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce by the time they have been retired for two years. Talk about why you think the numbers are so high and some of the things you do to avoid becoming another statistic.
Mughelli: How you avoid being a statistic is you work on your second career during your first career so you don’t have that lull in time where you don’t have that income coming in but you still have all your bills from your houses, your cars, your boats. You’re still trying to go out to clubs and buy out bars. You’re still trying to take care of family members who quit their jobs because they thought that their big brother or son or whoever has made it big, so they don’t have to work as hard. You’re going to have bills. You got to have an income, and you got to have that set to go right after you finish with the NFL. You take a couple months off, but then you need to have something ready to go. What I’ve done with my foundation, with leveraging my connections, with networking, with going to different events and meeting people in Atlanta is I’ve just let people know that I’m a good guy and I want to go out here and work. I went to several of the business schools that the NFL offers, which every player should take advantage of. I went to Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford business schools, learning good business skills, learning how to start my own company, learning how to manage my own money, learning how to do a whole bunch of things that are necessary. Also, I went to Broadcast Bootcamp because I’m interested in being a commentator after football, and I’m interested in being a good one. I love my teammates and my fellow NFL guys, but not everyone who has a big name should be commentating. There are guys up there who are struggling. I wish that they would do a little more research, a little more homework, a little more practice, and not just assume that “Hey, I’m so and so. I’m a big name guy. I can just get on TV and be a natural.” Nah, you have to work on it. Stuart Scott didn’t become Stuart Scott by accident. He has talent, but a lot of it is practice.
Q: What sort of interaction have you had with the player development representatives for the Baltimore Ravens (O.J. Brigance) and the Atlanta Falcons (Kevin Winston)? What are some of the ways they’ve helped you with your career development?
Mughelli: They’ve done a lot. O.J. especially. He helped keep me out of trouble and answer questions as far as what do on the field, in the locker room, and off the field. Both of those guys helped me as far as connections and getting into other areas after football, whether it was real estate or being a commentator. O.J. and Kevin both helped me apply to all the business schools, they encouraged me to go to as many optional events as I could, and really encouraged me to get involved with the community. O.J. kept that bug in me and lit that fire as far as me being involved in the community.
Q: Did you find the NFL Rookie Symposium helpful?
Mughelli: Definitely. The fact that they have people talk to us who have made some of the mistakes that they want us to stay away from, it’s better than just having a lecture or something. Someone whose made some of the mistakes and can tell us some firsthand stories makes it that much more likely that we will listen to them and we won’t make the same [ones].
Q: What improvements do you think could be made to the NFL’s Player Development Program?
Mughelli: You can’t force anyone to do anything. They offer a lot of stuff. If you can figure out a way to force guys to go to business school or force guys to have a plan for retirement as soon they get in the league, it would be better . . . instead of making it optional. Make the meetings mandatory and have some type of forum for what would I do if I retire right now.
Q: What do you want people to know about Ovie as the person, not the football player?
Mughelli: As far as what I want them to about Ovie the person is that I’m a really caring guy who likes to help other people. I have no problem dedicating my career after football to helping others, whether it’s through my foundation or any other foundation. I love to give and love the sport, but what really matters at the end of the day is people. If you can help people with a word, with an action, with a smile, then you should.