TThe Green Bay Packers open their preseason schedule Thursday against the San Francisco 49ers. Matt LaFleur’s team is among the Super Bowl favorites, and their veteran quarterback is aiming for a rare individual victory.
Aaron Rodgers was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2020 and 2021, and it would be an amazing accomplishment for the Packers star to seal the award again after a season in which he would have turned 39. Only one player has won the award three times in a row: his predecessor at Lambeau Field, Brett Favre.
The 52-year-old retired in 2011, his status undisputed as one of the greatest players of all time. He played for the Packers from 1992-2007 and, like Rodgers, is a Super Bowl champion.
Longevity also helps explain his popularity: He made an NFL-record 297 consecutive starts over 19 seasons, during which his gunslinging style — his huge throws often resulted in as many interceptions as touchdowns — endeared him to fans. The streak ended in 2010 at the age of 41 when he suffered a shoulder injury with the Minnesota Vikings.
Endurance feats came at a cost: for a while, Favre became addicted to painkillers. But if anything, his struggles only made him more popular in the areas of Middle America that love the blue-collar hero and make up a large portion of the NFL’s fan base. A day after his father’s death, they cheered after he led the Packers to a victory over the Raiders on Monday Night Football; supported his wife Deanna when she was diagnosed with breast cancer (she recovered and started a foundation); and stood by him when he entered the rehabilitation clinic.
Even the allegation that he sent revealing photos to a female sideline reporter — an NFL investigation said there was insufficient evidence to prove Favre’s guilt — failed to seriously dent his popularity.
Favre is now embroiled in a complex and wide-ranging welfare fraud scandal involving politicians, state officials and former wrestlers in his home state of Mississippi. The fact that many of the victims are the working-class people he represents could do long-term damage to his status as an NFL folk hero.
In 2020, it was revealed that up to $94 million in federal funds meant to help the most vulnerable in Mississippi, the nation’s most poverty-stricken state, had been spent inappropriately and in some cases illegally. State Auditor Shad White called the embezzlement, which led to the criminal prosecution of six people, “the largest public fraud in the history of the state.” Last year, White demanded the return of more than $77 million in taxpayer money that was handed out under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.
Among those named by the auditor were three members of the Favre and DiBiase wrestling families: Ted DiBiase Sr. — who wrestled as a WWF Million Dollar Man and later founded a Christian ministry that allegedly received $1.7 million in TANF funds — and his son Brett, another time wrestler. Brett DiBiase allegedly paid $48,000 to conduct drug addiction education sessions, but did not teach the classes, instead attending a luxury rehab center in Malibu. In December 2020, Brett DiBiase pleaded guilty to making false statements.
The Mississippi Community Education Center, one of two nonprofits involved in the case, paid Favre $1.1 million for speaking engagements, promotional appearances and autograph signings in 2017 and 2018. misspent federal grants, and Favre has not faced criminal charges for any of the allegations.
Favre has said little publicly but denied the auditor’s claim that he did not attend the events in question. He persistence In 2020, he claimed that he had “never been paid for any commitments I have not seen” and that his foundation had “donated nearly $10 million to underprivileged and underprivileged children in Mississippi and Wisconsin.” In 2021, he he said he would “never knowingly take money to help our needy neighbors.”
Favre returned the $1.1 million, though he denies he defaulted on his speaking obligations. The state is also seeking an additional $228,000 in interest. In May, Mississippi sued more than three individuals and entities, including Favre, two little-known former football players and the DiBiases, in an effort to recover more than $20 million through a civil process.
But Favre’s lucrative appearance fees aren’t the only reason he’s under scrutiny. The former linebacker, who suffered a concussion in the final game of his career, told Sports Illustrated in 2017 that he had invested in a Florida-based startup called Prevacus, which makes a neurosteroid that can be administered nasally after concussions. crushing blow.
Nancy and Zachary New, a mother and son who run the Mississippi Community Education Center, pleaded guilty in April to federal fraud charges. This May’s lawsuit, titled “Illegal Diversion of TANF Funds to Enrich Sports Celebrities,” alleges that News, Favre and other figures associated with Prevacus spoke — even meeting at Favre’s home — and the center transferred $2.1 million. State welfare grants to Prevacus. Favre has yet to respond to the allegations and his representative did not return a request for comment.
Then there is the volleyball court. Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news outlet that pioneered coverage of the scandal, reported that Nancy and Zachary New are donating a $5 million endowment to the construction of a softball arena at the University of Southern Mississippi. Favre was a fan of the project. The university is her alma mater and one of her daughters played softball there. Mississippi Today revealed last month that attorney Brad Pigott, who was closely investigating the softball payout for the state welfare agency, was fired under controversial circumstances that resulted in the postponement of scheduled depositions, including Favre’s.
Pigott told the Guardian that he will have “a lot of questions” for Favre, including probing the extent of his knowledge of the source of the money and understanding what the proper use of TANF funds is.
“The whole scheme of millions of dollars of random spending on people who don’t need it,” Pigott said, “is morally wrong as well as legally wrong. As a nation, we have dire needs because of the obvious effects of our racist past.”
Bennie Thompson represents Jackson County, where 38% of children live below the poverty line. “TANF funds should not be going to build softball stadiums,” the Democratic congressman told the Guardian. “It’s Robin Hood in reverse. Take from the poor and give to the rich.”
Thompson added that he was “absolutely outraged” by the abuse, which he called “as horrific as it was,” and wanted a thorough federal investigation. “There’s no question that the money was misspent, there’s no question that the people who benefited from the money were unsavory, and so for whatever reason, some of them being rich, famous, politically connected, they weren’t charged or whatever. it is a sign of what they will be,” he said.
Favre endorsed incumbent Governor Tate Reeves in 2019, describing him as a “friend”. Text messages seen by Mississippi Today show Favre’s close ties to top state officials, including former Gov. Phil Bryant (who denies any wrongdoing). The report includes messages in which Favre and a business partner discussed giving up shares in Bryant so that the governor would support Prevacus (Bryant denies ever considering buying stock in the company).
Favre, who He earned 141 million dollars During his career, he charges $400 to post short personalized video messages on Cameo and was the site’s most popular athlete in 2020. He makes occasional media appearances, drawing the elder statesman with a smooth southern accent as a silver-haired ex-blacksmith. and comfortable charm.
“One of the things I’m most proud of about anything I’ve been able to do is give so much money and help so many people,” Favre told a reporter in early 2020 when discussing his philanthropic efforts. “We’re not perfect by any means, but we’re trying to give back.”
Now, as the investigation continues, attention is focused on what happened during the ugly episode, which highlights the power of wealth and fame, as well as ideological opposition among conservatives to handing out benefits to the poor.
As public dollars flowed to Favre, the DiBiases and other well-connected and wealthy individuals and companies with little oversight, thousands of struggling families in Mississippi were turned away when they applied for assistance of up to $170 a month for a family of three. . In 2016, 11,717 low-income Mississippi residents applied for TANF benefits, according to ThinkProgress. The Republican-led state approved and registered a total of 167 people.
“Our state has created a lot of barriers to access to TANF in the first place,” Carol Burnett told the Guardian. She is the executive director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to helping strengthen women’s economic security.
“The number of people on welfare has dropped so much that our state now has just over 200 adults statewide still on TANF,” Burnett added. “Mississippi has a long history of hostility to federally funded public benefits that support the poor.” Asked how he felt about the welfare scandal, he replied: “Outraged would be a word.”