Brett Favre, the NFL legend who has become publicly ensnared in the sprawling Mississippi welfare scandal, sued state Auditor Shad White and national sports media figures Shannon Sharpe and Pat McAfee for defamation.
White, whose investigation of welfare misspending led to 2020 criminal charges of six people, is one of the most prominent officials to publicly discuss the scandal. Several times in recent months, White has criticized Favre’s involvement in the scandal and even got into a tense social media back-and-forth with the Hall of Fame quarterback.
Attorneys for Favre, who has not been charged with any crime related to the scandal, argued in the new lawsuit that White has “made egregiously false and defamatory statements” in several media appearances.
“Shad White, the State Auditor of Mississippi, has carried out an outrageous media campaign of malicious and false accusations against Brett Favre — the Hall of Fame quarterback and native son of Mississippi — in a brazen attempt to leverage the media attention generated by Favre’s celebrity to further his own political career,” reads Favre’s complaint, filed in Hinds County Circuit Court on Feb. 9.
Favre’s complaint against White continues: “By shamelessly and falsely attacking Favre’s good name, White has gained national media attention he previously could have only dreamed of, including appearances on television shows on CNN and HBO, a popular ESPN podcast, as well as interviews for print and online media. None of these national media outlets would have paid White the slightest attention had he not been attacking Favre. White himself acknowledged this, admitting that his own wife was “shocked” by his appearance on the ESPN Daily Podcast.”
Favre also specifies that he’s suing White, not the state of Mississippi, and that he’s seeking damages from White as an individual, not from Mississippi taxpayers.
White’s office released a statement shortly after the lawsuit was filed on Thursday.
”Everything Auditor White has said about this case is true and is backed by years of audit work by the professionals at the Office of the State Auditor,” White’s spokesman Fletcher Freeman said. “It’s mind-boggling that Mr. Favre wants to have a trial about that question. Mr. Favre has called Auditor White and his team liars despite repaying some of the money our office demanded from him. He’s also claimed the auditors are liars despite clear documentary evidence showing he benefitted from misspent funds. Instead of paying New York litigators to try this case, he’d be better off fully repaying the amount of welfare funds he owes the state.”
Favre also sued media figures Shannon Sharpe and Pat McAfee, who each have popular national platforms to discuss sports news and analysis, for defamation.
“You got to be a sorry mofo to steal from the lowest of the low,” Sharpe said on his television show “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” on Sept. 14, the day after Mississippi Today broke a story revealing that when Favre discussed receiving funding from a welfare-funded nonprofit director, he asked if the public would find out.
“Mississippi is the poorest state in our country — its citizens,” Sharpe continued. “So if they’re the poorest state, Brett Favre is taking from the underserved. You made $100 plus million in the NFL. And to talk about, ‘Well, he didn’t know.’ This is what Brett Favre texted: ‘If you were to pay me, is there any way the media can find out where it came from and how much?’ If you’ve got to ask this question, ‘Is there any way the media can find out?’, you already know you’re doing something wrong.”
Mississippi Today’s 2022 “The Backchannel” investigation revealed how Favre received welfare funds for several projects, including funding for his startup pharmaceutical company.
Never-before-seen text messages showed former Gov. Phil Bryant discussed Favre’s proposal to build a new volleyball stadium — construction ultimately funded with welfare funds. Prosecutors have called the project a scheme to defraud the government.
Mississippi Today’s reporting found that Favre traded on his own fame and connections to secure a financial bailout from the state of Mississippi.
In the course of Favre’s dealings with state officials on behalf of the pharmaceutical venture or the volleyball stadium, Favre proposed: giving Bryant and nonprofit founder Nancy New shares in the company in exchange for their help; buying the former welfare director John Davis a F-150 Raptor; and convincing New and Davis to pay off a more than $1 million commitment he made to USM.
Favre himself received a $1.1 million payment from the welfare-funded charity under a vague promotional gig, which White claims included event appearances that Favre never attended. Favre has since returned the funds.
In addition to the new defamation suit, Favre continues to fight civil charges Mississippi Department of Human Services has filed against him and several others in an attempt to recoup the misspent welfare funds. The suit alleges Favre should be on the hook for over $7 million that he allegedly helped funnel away from people in poverty.