Granderson: The accusations against Brett Favre are not just another NFL scandal

Almost every member of my family has Mississippi ties. During school vacations, we loaded up the Aerostar and drove south from Detroit on I-75 to our grandparents’ house in Cruger, a small town nestled somewhere between where Emmett Till was found and where Medgar Evers was murdered . As a kid I didn’t like staying too long because there was never anything to do. As an adult, I wish I had cherished those days a lot more.

As you might imagine in a town of less than 500 people, Cruger doesn’t have many well-paying jobs. The current median household income is less than US$25,000, leaving about 35% of the population in poverty. There are many cities like Cruger in Mississippi, the poorest state in our nation.

Spotted portrait illustration by LZ Granderson

opinion columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and life in America.

Crawford, where Hall of Famer Jerry Rice grew up, has a 26% poverty rate. Archie Manning’s birthplace, Drew, has a poverty rate of over 40%. Rams great Jackie Slater was born in the state capital of Jackson, where 180,000 residents have recently gone weeks without clean water and one in four lives in poverty.

These are the communities most in need of financial assistance.

And these are the communities that Brett Favre, himself a Mississippi native, found out he was taking money from — and didn’t care.

At least $77 million in welfare funds was squandered on the largest public fraud in state history. Favre was sued by the state in May to reclaim $1.1 million in welfare payments he received, and recent court filings have revealed details of his involvement.

Text exchange between Favre and officials, including the then governor. Phil Bryant, show discussions about diverting at least $5 million to help build a volleyball stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi. Favre played football there and his daughter played volleyball at the time. Mississippi Today reported news back in 2017, a year after Favre was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Picture this: he got the famous gold jacket, and that was one of the first things he used his buffed reputation for.

We know the stories of legendary athletes giving back to the communities they come from. But take?

In the NFL, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award was created specifically to recognize players for their philanthropy and work in communities across the country.

I’ve spoken to the most recent recipient, Andrew Whitworth of the Rams, several times over the years about the work of his family’s youth-focused charitable foundation, the Big Whit 77 Foundation. I’ve seen the dedication of past awardees like Warrick Dunn, whose foundation has helped more than 200 families buy and furnish their first homes.

“The more I learned, the more we wanted to get into the business of empowering people to break their cycle of poverty,” Dunn told CNN last year.

That’s why the text messages between Favre, Bryant and Co. not only reveal your usual NFL scandal.

It’s the opposite of the Walter Payton Award that so many players want to win. An award, by the way, named after someone who was born in Columbia, Miss., which currently has a poverty rate of 35.5%.

There will be people – maybe fans, maybe former players – who will try to characterize this shameful exploit as a bug.

Just think about it: Two years after Favre made the, um, alleged mistake of rushing for social funds for a new volleyball arena, he turned to Bryant again about building an indoor soccer practice facility.

Once is a mistake.

He came back for seconds.

Hall of Fame rules may make it impossible for the NFL to ban Favre, but as we saw with Colin Kaepernick, the league can certainly ban him. Because if owners thought protests during the national anthem threatened the integrity of the NFL’s prized shield, where does “charged for accepting financial assistance from the poorest among us” fit into that picture?

Mississippi has been really good for the NFL, from Sweetness himself, Walter Payton, to GOAT Jerry Rice, to legendary quarterback Manning and rising stars like Rams’ Cam Akers.

Many of them have family roots like mine, similar to those of many blacks far south due to the Great Migration. This scandal is taking place in Mississippi, but history counts everywhere. The NFL is everywhere.

That’s what made Favre a household name.

He retired as the NFL’s all-time top QB in yards, touchdowns and wins.

Apparently, these exploits helped him convince powerful people to serve his ego instead of those most in need.

That’s incredibly selfish, even for a quarterback whose first NFL degree was for himself.

“If you pay me, can the media still find out where it came from and how much?” Favre reportedly asked Nancy New, the founder of the Mississippi Community Education Center, which has been responsible for spending millions of state dollars.

“We never released that information,” replied New, who has since pleaded guilty to 13 counts of bribery, fraud and racketeering because of her role in the welfare system.

It’s hard for me to see all this as a mistake.

His all-time record of interceptions — those were “mistakes.”

This isn’t one.

@LZ Granderson Granderson: The accusations against Brett Favre are not just another NFL scandal

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