Favre Seeks to Revive Defamation Lawsuit Against Shannon Sharpe in Welfare Scandal Context

Brett Favre’s legal team approached a federal appeals court on Tuesday, requesting the reinstatement of a defamation lawsuit against Shannon Sharpe, a former NFL tight end and fellow Hall of Fame member. This legal battle unfolds amidst one of Mississippi’s most significant public corruption cases involving the misuse of welfare funds.

In October, a federal judge in Mississippi dismissed the lawsuit, stating that the First Amendment protected Sharpe’s comments on a sports broadcast. Sharpe had criticized Favre’s involvement in the welfare scandal during a September 2022 episode of “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” on Fox Sports, alleging that Favre “stole money from people that needed that money” and “took from the underserved.”

Favre’s attorney, Amit Vora, argued before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that Sharpe’s comments amounted to defamation, asserting that a reasonable listener would interpret the word “steal” literally. Vora emphasized that Favre has not been charged with any crime.

Sharpe’s lawyer, Joseph Terry, countered that Sharpe’s remarks were opinions expressed in response to a news report about the welfare scandal and its potential impact on Favre’s legacy. Terry argued that the comments, when taken in context, were rhetorical.

The judges should have indicated when to issue a ruling on the appeal.

The controversy centers around findings by Mississippi State Auditor Shad White, who reported that between 2016 and 2019, the Mississippi Department of Human Services misallocated over $77 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Among the findings was that Favre received $1.1 million in speaking fees from a nonprofit organization that used TANF funds, supposedly for constructing a $5 million volleyball arena at The University of Southern Mississippi, Favre’s alma mater, where his daughter was playing the sport.

Favre has repaid the $1.1 million but still owes $729,790 due to interest accumulation, according to a February court filing by White. Favre, a Mississippi resident, denies wrongdoing and has not faced criminal charges. He is one of over three dozen individuals or entities sued by the state Department of Human Services.

U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett’s October ruling deemed Sharpe’s statements as “rhetorical hyperbole” protected by the Constitution. Starrett stated that no reasonable person would believe that Favre physically took money from poor individuals, implying that Sharpe’s comments were not to be taken literally.