Earlier this week, I touched on how the ongoing water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, stems from centuries of racist, capitalist bigotry and exploitation in the state.
The oppressive tradition of white, conservative power brokers redirecting state funds from largely Black communities in the nation’s Blackest state created the crumbling infrastructure in Jackson. And that crumbling infrastructure is forcing more than 150,000 people to live without reliable drinking water for an unknown amount of time in a city that’s more than 82% Black.
But the cruelty doesn’t stop there. A welfare scandal involving a legendary NFL quarterback underscores just how common that exploitation can be.
On Thursday, NBC News reported that federal investigators have questioned Brett Favre about an alleged welfare scheme involving Mississippi conservatives, including former Gov. Phil Bryant.
Favre, a Mississippi native who spent most of his Hall of Fame career with the Green Bay Packers, is one of several people who were paid gigantic sums of money allegedly siphoned from a state welfare program meant to help poor families with children. Black families make up a disproportionate number of the federally funded program’s recipients in Mississippi, which is the poorest state in the country. According to Mississippi’s state auditor, Favre received more than $1 million for speeches he never delivered.
Favre declined an interview with NBC News, but his lawyer, Bud Holmes, told NBC that Favre did nothing wrong and never understood that he had been paid with welfare funds.
According to NBC News:
Favre has repaid the fees, although not the $228,000 in interest the [state] auditor also demanded. But the revelation by the auditor that $70 million in [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] welfare funds was doled out to a multimillionaire athlete, a professional wrestler, a horse farm and a volleyball complex are at the heart of a scandal that has rocked the nation’s poorest state, sparking parallel state and federal criminal investigations that have led to charges and guilty pleas involving some of the key players.
Favre is infamous for throwing the most interceptions in NFL history. But I’d argue any interception of money meant for poor kids and families would be his most shameful yet.
Favre has not been accused of a crime or charged, but he and Bryant seem to be benefiting from some favorable treatment from a fellow conservative, Gov. Tate Reeves. In July, Reeves’ administration fired an attorney who had subpoenaed a group tied to the University of Southern Mississippi to turn over communications the school had with Bryant’s office about using welfare funds to pay for a volleyball gym.
That attorney, Brad Pigott, authenticated texts recovered by Mississippi Today in which Favre allegedly discussed kicking funds back to the governor if a company Favre invests in were to receive a payout from the welfare fund.
“Don’t know if legal or not but we need cut him in,” Favre allegedly texted a company official back in November 2018, referring to Bryant. Three days later, he added: “Also if legal I’ll give some of my shares to the Governor.”
Bryant, for what it’s worth, has said he wouldn’t have accepted the offer. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has asked the Justice Department to investigate Favre and Bryant, and Pigott has said there’s reason to scrutinize them as well.
“All of it remains quite a mystery,” Pigott told NBC News, “as to why Mr. Favre would get the benefit of millions of dollars in TANF [Temporary Assistance for the Needy] welfare money, both for a fee for speeches he didn’t make, $2 million-plus to go to a company in which he was the largest outside individual investor and $5 million for his alma mater to play volleyball in a volleyball building.”
“Mystery” is one word for it. “History” seems to be another. As in historically, wealthy, white, well-connected Mississippians have enriched themselves at others’ expense.
The Jackson water crisis and the welfare scandal involving Brett Favre are products of the same, oppressive power structure in Mississippi.