By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS (Associated Press)
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre filed lawsuits Thursday in Mississippi, accusing the state auditor and two national sportscasters of defaming him in public discussions about the misspending of welfare money that was supposed to help some of the poorest people in one of the poorest states in the nation.
The lawsuit against Auditor Shad White says the Republican “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.”
In a separate lawsuit against former NFL player Shannon Sharpe, Favre said Sharpe made “egregiously false” statements about him on the Fox Sports talk show “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed,” including that Favre “stole money from people that really needed money.”
And in another lawsuit against retired NFL player Pat McAfee, Favre said McAfee had used “outrageous falsehoods” that included calling Favre a “thief” who was “stealing from poor people in Mississippi.”
Favre is not facing criminal charges in the Mississippi welfare scandal, but he is among more than three dozen people or businesses the state is suing to try to recover misspent money through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Favre has repaid $1.1 million he received for speaking fees from a nonprofit group that spent TANF money with approval from the Mississippi Department of Human Services. White said Favre never showed up to give the speeches.
In December, the state Department of Human Services made a new demand of up to $5 million against Favre and a university sports foundation, saying welfare money was improperly used to pay for a volleyball arena at Favre’s alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi.
Favre’s daughter started playing volleyball at the university in 2017. The volleyball facility was a pet project of the retired quarterback, and he pledged to lead fundraising efforts for it. Previous filings in the state’s civil lawsuit show text message exchanges between Favre and others about directing money to the volleyball facility from a nonprofit organization that had Department of Human Services contracts.
The Associated Press sent an email to a representative of McAfee and left phone messages for Sharpe on Thursday, seeking comment about the defamation lawsuits. They did not immediately respond.
The lawsuit Favre filed against the auditor Thursday accuses White of “shamelessly and falsely attacking Favre’s good name” to gain attention for himself, “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.”
Fletcher Freeman, a spokesman for White, said in a statement: ”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. It’s mind-boggling that Mr. Favre wants to have a trial about that question.”
Freeman also said that Favre has called White and the auditor’s team liars, despite repaying some of the money the auditor’s office demanded from him.
“He’s also claimed the auditors are liars despite clear documentary evidence showing he benefitted from misspent funds,” Freeman said. “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.”
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