Stories about NFL legend Brett Favre and former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant have been dismal in recent weeks as text messages and other revelations about misspent welfare money continue to pile up.
Without one of Favre’s miracle comebacks, it’s going to get worse. The national sports media is on the case, and one of Favre’s biggest fans, Peter King of NBC Sports, has joined the criticism of the Super Bowl champ.
This is significant because King, especially during his many years as Sports Illustrated’s pro football writer, was one of Favre’s greatest admirers.
As Mississippi sports fans know, there was so much to like. But King’s “Football Morning in America” column, which landed on the NBCsports.com website Monday, laid out the world of trouble Favre has created for himself by actively pushing for state money for a volleyball facility at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi.
“Favre’s reputation among his NFL peers has taken a major hit,” King wrote. “Sage Rosenfels, the former quarterback, backed up Favre in Minnesota in 2009. They were close enough that, on the sidelines in the 2009 NFC title game, after Favre threw the incredible across-his-body interception that led to the winning New Orleans field goal, Rosenfels says Favre told him, ‘I choked.’
“Last Thursday, Rosenfels Tweeted: ‘Since retirement, I have been lucky to avoid stealing millions of dollars from the poorest people in my state.’ Ouch. Imagine a teammate who got along famously with a big star (and vice versa), sharing a quarterback room and a season, sending a dagger of a tweet like that. It shows the outrage of so many at Favre.”
In fairness to Favre, his attorney claims the retired quarterback did not know the money for USM was coming from cash intended to help the needy. As King wrote, the investigations into the transactions should determine whether this defense is accurate.
Meanwhile, the Mississippi Today website, which broke the story and has covered it closely for some time, now has the attention of King, ESPN and other national news organizations.
On King’s podcast that was scheduled for release Tuesday, Mississippi Today reporter Anna Wolfe said she believes that many of the people working on Favre’s behalf — such as education non-profit operator Nancy New and Department of Human Services director John Davis — behaved more like wide-eyed fans of a Mississippi celebrity than stewards of public money.
She also noted that lax federal regulations about the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money encouraged state officials to spend it on things like the volleyball facility — because almost all of the people who applied for TANF assistance got rejected.
ESPN, meanwhile, reported over the weekend that in 2019 Favre continued to ask Bryant, who was still in office, for more money for the volleyball facility, apparently so Favre wouldn’t have to pay it himself.
The story included messages between Bryant and then-USM President Rodney Bennett, who messaged the governor, “The bottom line is he personally guaranteed the project, and on his word and handshake we proceeded. It’s time for him to pay up — it really is just that simple.”
The governor responded, “He is a legend but he has to understand what a pledge means.”
Mississippi Today has its critics in the state who say the website is too liberal. But it’s hard to make the same allegations about the sports world, where Favre was greatly respected for his achievements and his down-to-earth personality — before this story came out.
With Peter King and ESPN on the case, things look grim indeed for Brett Favre.
— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal