Will Brett Favre be punished for his alleged role in embezzling Mississippi social funds?


You have to explain yourself, Favre.

You have to explain yourself, Favre.
Image: Getty Images

Brett Favre has rightly come under fire for his alleged role in diverting funds from the Mississippi welfare fund to a pet volleyball court project. His daughter played for the team, and with around $135 million in career earnings, he certainly could have donated himself. Mississippi is by some indicators the poorest state in the union, compounding the injustice.

“…[I]Is there a way for the media to find out where it’s from and how much? Favre reportedly asked Mississippi officials in a text.

Favre’s involvement is a sports story, though it was broken by journalist Anna Wolfe covering the pace of poverty for mississippi today. The financial story in sports tends to revolve around player salaries and broadcast rights deals, but that framing is a choice.

While Favre’s personal interest in allegedly embezzling $6 million is easy to understand, it’s a familiar story in sports. Wealthy owners brazenly ask states and cities to pay for private stadiums and infrastructure all the time. Of course, they make an economic argument about the return on this “investment” which may or may not materialize, but the basic principle is the same: using public funds for private sports facilities.

“Brett Favre is basically doing the same thing as wealthy owners,” said David Berri, a professor of sports economics at Utah’s Southern State. “Only Favre was not threatening to leave the state.”

The cravenness of Favre’s alleged grift may seem uniquely corrosive. Oh, but it isn’t. It very much connects to the economic story that is sports, where public funds are diverted to sports projects all the time. Wealthy sports owners are constantly winning tax breaks for private arenas, and make no mistake, those public monies could be used for any number of worthy projects. 

Earlier this year, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul came out cheering for the $850 million in public funds that will go to the new Buffalo Bills stadium. Owners Terry and Kim Pegula are worth around $5.8 billion according to this USA today see at the question. The stadium deal may not have literally taken money from the poorest of us, but then again, it may.

“It’s all public money,” Berri said.

Public money is what turns into money for the poor, for roads and for drinking water. Every tax dollar used to fund a pristine NFL stadium with luxury boxes and personal seat licenses is money that cannot be used for the general good. And commissioned reports predicting that taxpayers’ money will drive economic growth are good stories, but they can’t predict the future and they’re documents designed to persuade officials to part with their money.

And keeping the Browns in Baltimore, I mean Cleveland, can help reelection. Moreover, it is clear from the great report to mississippi today that Governor Phil Bryant kinda liked Favre the same way all politicians like votes.

There is another angle to this story that Berri points out. Favre reportedly funneled money to a women’s volleyball facility. This is remarkable because by itself, women’s sports infrastructure rarely receives the taxpayer money that goes to men’s sports. When they do, it is often a mixed-use facility.

“About $1 billion was spent on MLS stadiums, but not the NWSL,” Berri said. “Billions on the NFL, billions on the NBA.”

It’s the kind of story a sports outlet would once have covered. But broadcasters aren’t there to tear down sports legends. Sportswriting is all too often less the first draft of history than the first draft of hero worship. Anna Wolfe was on Pablo Torre’s podcast this week to discuss the reporting process for this piece, and it’s illuminating. A poverty reporter picked up an army of sportswriters.

Where did Favre’s conviction go? Sure, he violated some pretty basic principles that the rich take money from the poor, but it’s something professional sports team owners routinely do to their communities. In return, the leagues talk about the value a team adds to the community.

And for part of the community, that’s very true. But there is another part of the community that might prefer to have lead-free pipes or proper drainage to prevent flooding.

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