Brett Favre asks appeals court to resume his defamation case against Shannon Sharpe

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Lawyers for retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to revive a defamation lawsuit Favre filed against fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer, former tight end Shannon Sharpe, amid a Mississippi welfare scandal that is one of the state’s largest cases of corruption.

A federal judge in Mississippi dismissed the lawsuit in Octoberand said Sharpe used constitutionally protected speech during a sports broadcast when he criticized Favre’s connection to the case of embezzlement of social security benefits.

Favre’s attorney, Amit Vora, told three judges at the U.S. 5th Court of Appeals in New Orleans that the lawsuit should be revived, arguing that Sharpe accused Favre, who has not been charged with a crime, of theft.

Sharpe said during a September 2022 broadcast of the Fox Sports show “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” that Favre “took money from the less fortunate,” that he “stole money from people who really needed it” and that it would take a person of pathetic means “to steal from the lowest of the low.”

“That is real defamation, because the reasonable listener takes the word stealing literally and not figuratively,” Vora said.

Sharpe’s attorney, Joseph Terry, told the judges that Sharpe’s comments were clearly an opinion he gave when asked about a news report about the Mississippi Social Security scandal and how the reports would affect Favre’s estate.

“When you read his comments in context, it’s clear he was expressing his views rhetorically,” Terry said.

The panel gave no indication when it would rule.

Mississippi State Auditor Shad White has said the Mississippi Department of Human Services wasted more than $200 million between 2016 and 2019. $77 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program – funds intended to help some of the poorest people in the U.S.

One of White’s findings was that Favre had improperly $1.1 million in speaking fees from a nonprofit that spent TANF money with approval from the Department of Human Services. The money was intended for a $5 million volleyball arena at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he attended and where his daughter played the sport.

Favre has paid back $1.1 million, but White said in a February court document that the former quarterback still owes $729,790 because interest induced growth of the original amount he owed.

Favre, who lives in Mississippi, denies wrongdoing and does not face criminal charges. He is one of more than three dozen people or companies being sued by the state’s Department of Human Services.

According to U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett’s October ruling, Sharpe’s comments about the case were constitutionally protected “rhetorical hyperbole.”

“No reasonable person listening to the broadcast would think that Favre actually went into the homes of poor people and took their money – that he committed the crime of robbery/theft against a specific poor person in Mississippi,” Starrett wrote.

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Emily Wagster Pettus, an Associated Press editor in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.

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