PRESS BOX: Mississippi welfare scandal shows athlete favoritism in sports media

Illustration by Killian Goodale-Porter

Kaitlyn Fulmore, Contributing Writer

Something about winning a Super Bowl makes fans unwilling to see the flaws of their favorite athletes, coaches or teams. However, a NFL quarterback’s sins finally seem to be catching up with him. 

Earlier this year, under former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, the former executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $70 million of welfare funds that were transferred to friends and family, rather than their intended purposes, according to CNN. Auditors state the funds had been transferred to retired quarterback Brett Favre, but evidence was not released until last month. 

Favre’s involvement in the Mississippi welfare scandal blew up in the media after Mississippi Today released an article exposing his texts between the former governor’s close friend Nancy New on Sept. 13. New informed Favre how to get funds for his own personal interests.

The lawsuit against Favre and others involved in the embezzlement of Mississippi welfare funds was released on May 9, according to NPR. Coverage for the hall-of-famer was minimal until text and email proof was brought forward. Sports media seemed to have waited as long as possible before covering Favre, and criticism from fans does not feel as harsh as it often does for non-white athlete counterparts.  

Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in America, and it’s one of the top states reliant on government assistance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So why did Favre feel the need to take money from people who need it the most? 

The retired quarterback, best known for his 15-year career with the Green Bay Packers, was a fan favorite and entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, according to the NFL.

Favre’s lawyer Bud Holmes has denied Favre’s knowing involvement with the fraud scandal. 

“He didn’t understand where the grants came from,” Holmes said, according to NBC. “He had no idea.”

The texts show otherwise. The Mississippi Today article reveals Favre’s involvement in funneling at least $5 million from Mississippi’s welfare program towards a new volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi — Favre’s alma mater and where his daughter played volleyball.

The texts between Favre and New show how Favre managed to funnel money from the welfare programs to the facility.

“If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?” Favre’s text to New states. 

Neither Favre nor his legal representation has made a statement on the recent evidence. 

Favre had arguably one of the most successful football careers, and at the time of him funneling the money, had an estimated net worth of $100 million, according to Sportskeeda. 

No amount of touchdown passes, wins or superbowl rings can make up for Favre’s hypocrisy. Favre should be criminally prosecuted for his actions which helped contribute to grossly misallocated government funds. 

Further investigation also revealed Favre’s own foundation, Favre4Hope, “donated” more than $130,000 to University of Southern Mississippi’s Athletic Foundation. Favre4Hope was created to support charities that served disabled children and breast cancer patients, according to their mission statement.

The NFL has yet to make any comments about Favre, or his status in the Hall of Fame.

Male athletes seem to get less hate when it comes to actual scandals, especially if their career was successful. Nostalgia for when the Packers used to actually win shouldn’t allow fans and writers to ignore Favre’s behavior.

In order for the NFL to actually begin enforcing more strict rules for misbehavior, fans need to stop supporting problematic athletes. No athlete should be put on a pedestal and be given immunity based on their stats. 

However, Favre also demonstrates another problem in the NFL; the positive favoritism towards white athletes.

The problem goes just beyond the NFL, the players and the fans. Sports media needs to do their part in actively working on inclusivity and diversity when it comes to reporting teams, coaches and athletes.

Sports media struggles to fairly cover white and Black athletes, which could be attributed to the diversity problem seen in sports journalism. In 2021, 79.2% of sports editors were white, and 77.1% of both columnists and reporters were white, according to the Sports Media Racial and Gender Report Card: Associated Press Sports Editors. A lack of diversity within the media leads to bias within the reporting between white and Black athletes.

White privilege exists in all spaces of the U.S., but people tend to ignore that with the diversity that professional sports appear to have. Sports have close ties to American nationalism and exceptionalism, and these aspects have inherently racist roots. 

Favre deserves to be punished, but fans and writers need to reflect on their own values and biases. 

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