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THERE’S A NEW, REPULSIVE WAY TO SPELL HIS NAME: BRETT F-R-A-U-D
Leveraging influence in his native Mississippi, the former NFL folk hero is accused of accepting millions in funds intended for welfare cases — a dark addendum to a career that once tantalized America
How many times is Brett Favre allowed to play dumb before we change the pronunciation of his last name? Back in the murky twilight of his Hall of Fame playing career, he denied sending creepy photos and inappropriate messages to Jenn Sterger, a game-day media host of the New York Jets, when he was the team’s 39-year-old quarterback. He blew off an NFL probe and paid a $50,000 fine for his silence.
Now, Favre swears off any knowledge that he was dipping into federal welfare resources — earmarked to help low-income families in his native Mississippi, America’s poorest state — when he charmed local officials into siphoning him millions. He conveniently ignores a text message he sent to Nancy New, one of two officials who already have pleaded guilty to fraud charges in an abhorrent case of embezzlement.
“If you were to pay me,” Favre texted New in 2017, “is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?”
The media (and the FBI) found out why Favre wanted the money: His daughter played volleyball at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, and he asked that funds intended for the poor — a program known as Temporary Assistance For Needy Families — be directed toward construction of an on-campus arena. Oh, and why not funnel more money for an indoor football facility, so the Golden Eagles had a better chance of recruiting Deion Sanders’ son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders? Oh, and how about an additional $1.1 million for personal speeches — informational, motivational, maybe yarns about kicking opioids — that he never gave? Oh, and while New’s nonprofit arm was listening, might the state part with another $2.1 million for his biotech startup, ridiculous as it was that Brett Favre would know anything about biotechnology?
His downhome persona, tethered to his swashbuckling creativity on the field, endeared Favre to football fans from the moment he emerged in Green Bay as a tundra savior in the early 1990s. But in a state that adores him, he is accused of using his fame and influence in a sweeping scandal — with former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant joining old pro wrestlers in the alleged $77 million con game — that exploited poverty for personal favors. Favre gained access to Bryant’s human resources director via privilege, and when, as expected, he’s charged with a crime, we’ll refer to him differently.
Brett Fraud, call him.
“Oh.. NOWWWWW he gets in trouble for inappropriate texts,” Sterger tweeted this week, her media career unfairly derailed since the episode.
Poked Sage Rosenfels, who backed up Favre in his final moments with the Minnesota Vikings, in a tweet: “Since retirement, I have been lucky to avoid stealing millions of dollars from the poorest people in my state.”
Don’t bother pressuring the Pro Football Hall of Fame to cancel him. If O.J. Simpson still has an active bust in Canton — after election, no one can be kicked out, even if that person is convicted of an unspeakable crime — Favre is safe. The same can’t be said for his legacy, once seemingly secure as an all-time legend.
In an idealistic America, quarterbacks would maintain their prominence and popularity in retirement. Peyton Manning has become our wisecracking uncle, with his own blossoming media company, changing the way we look at “Monday Night Football” programming with brother Eli. Jim Kelly showed the meaning of courage in his cancer battles. John Elway won another Super Bowl as an executive and opened steakhouses where he and his friends could imbibe. Joe Montana got into wineries and venture capital. Boomer Esiason is a studio analyst and New York talk-show host. Drew Brees tried broadcasting, then bought a franchise in a pickleball league. Kurt Warner produced his improbable life story in Hollywood. Dan Marino launched a coal-fired-pizza chain. Jim McMahon follows me on Twitter. Tom Brady … I’m not sure what happened to Tom Brady.
Brett Favre? He is being sued by his home state for misappropriating funds intended for those trying to stay alive a few more weeks. According to court documents, Favre contacted Bryant in 2017 and said he and his wife, Deanna, were using personal money to build the volleyball arena. Two years later, he wanted welfare funding for the project. “We obviously need your help big time and time is working against us,” wrote Favre, suggesting Bryant’s name could be put on the building.
“We are going to get there. This was a great meeting. But we have to follow the law. I am to old for Federal Prison,” replied the governor, soon to be the ex-governor. He wasn’t too concerned, ending his message with a smiling, sunglasses-wearing emoji. Since then, Favre has paid back only the $1.1 million for his no-show speeches. Otherwise, he remains in denial.
If nothing else, Favre always could rely on a radio show to bide his time. Not anymore. “The Sirius XM Blitz, with Brett Favre and Bruce Murray,” hasn’t been on the air in two weeks. And if he wants to relive the glory days via his best-selling biography — “Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre” — author Jeff Pearlman is asking potential book-buyers to boycott his work moving forward. That’s right, he’s so disgusted that he’s taking money out of his own pocket.
“I wrote a biography of the man that was largely glowing," Pearlman wrote on social media. “Football heroics, overcoming obstacles, practical joker, etc. Yes, it included his grossness, addictions, treatment of women. But it was fairly positive. And, looking at it now, if I'm being brutally honest — I'd advise people not to read it. He's a bad guy. He doesn't deserve the icon treatment. He doesn't deserve acclaim. Image rehabilitation. Warm stories of grid glory. His treatment of @jennifersterger was ... inexcusable.
“And now — taking money that was designated to help poor people in HIS STATE, and funneling it to build (checks notes) A (expletive) VOLLEYBALL ARENA (!?!?!?) is so grotesque, so monstrous. I don't know how someone like that looks in the mirror. I just don't. So, sincerely, don't buy the book, don't take it out from the library. Leave it. There are sooooo many better people worthy of your reading hours. Of your time. I prefer crumbs like Brett Favre shuffle off into the abyss, shamed by greed and selfishness.”
Somewhere near Hattiesburg, if not a prison nearby, hell awaits him.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.