Brett Favre getting in hot water over inappropriate texts is nothing new. However, his latest scandal reaches the highest office of the Mississippi executive branch of government.
On Tuesday, Mississippi Today published several texts that provided verifiable evidence of former Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s assistance in aiding Nancy New, the founder of the Mississippi Community Education Center, in diverting welfare funds towards the construction of a new multi-million dollar University of Southern Mississippi volleyball stadium, at Favre’s behest.
The $7 million USM Wellness Center was funded in part by $5 million New helped deliver. Between 2017 and 2019, New, Favre, and Bryant casually discussed how to redistribute the funds surreptitiously. The texts were filed by the attorney for New, who pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts related to bribery, fraud, and racketeering in the welfare-stadium scheme.
Although Favre and Bryant have never been charged with a crime, the texts appear to show that he came up with the idea to funnel even more money through his company as a backdoor to funding the stadium:
“Was just thinking that here is the way to do it!!” Favre texted.
Favre, who was paid over $138 million in his NFL career, was also funneled $1.1 million to promote a state initiative, a portion of the $77 million in misspent welfare funds, for speeches that he never delivered. Those funds were reportedly a backchannel to his volleyball arena project. An audit released in 2020 said that New’s Mississippi Community Education Center paid Favre Enterprises $500,000 in December 2017 and $600,000 in June 2018 to make speeches for at least three events. In 2020, Favre was ordered to repay the funds, but still owes nearly $228,000 in interest.
While Favre’s involvement in the welfare funds scheme was initially portrayed as a misunderstanding involving one of his charities, the uncovered texts revealed the motives and extent of Favre’s involvement.
Favre has claimed he was unaware that the funds were diverted from welfare, and his attorney, Bud Holmes, denied that the athlete knew the money he received was from the welfare fund. “Brett Favre has been honorable throughout this whole thing,” Holmes said Monday.
But Favre was clearly cognizant of the optics based on text messages with New in 2017. These messages also confirmed the cooperation of Governor Bryant.
“If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?” Favre asked New in 2017.
After telling Favre that “we never have that information publicized,” she circled back to him the next day.
“Wow, just got off the phone with Phil Bryant! He is on board with us! We will get this done!” New told Favre.
In pursuit of financial support for a state-of-the-art volleyball facility at USM, Bryant assisted Favre on how to write a funding proposal that would be accepted by the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
Mississippi has the lowest welfare acceptance rate in the country, at 1.42 percent. Meaning 98.5 percent of applicants who apply for welfare in the state are denied. Mississippi’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund has sent steadily diminishing amounts to families since the 1990s. Congress’ 1996 welfare reform bill gave states more autonomy over how to spend their federal funding for the poor. By 1999, the TANF program which was born from that welfare reform bill, doled out cash assistance to nearly 32,000 families within the state of Mississippi. By 2021, fresh off of a pandemic, that number had reduced to 2,774.
Nationally, unspent TANF funds have accumulated over the decade to $5.2 billion. While states such as California approve cash assistance for 71 out of every 100 families who apply, 4 percent of applicants in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi receive aid from the program.
Mississippi is one of the country’s stingiest distributors of welfare funds to the families that need it most. In August, current Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves returned federal money for rental assistance for residents in need, despite Census data showing 44.5 percent of Mississippians are behind in rent, by deriding it as a “socialist experiment program.” However, the old boys’ network is prospering in Mississippi, where Favre and Governor Bryant have escaped criminal prosecution thus far, though Favre has reportedly been interviewed by the FBI.
Meanwhile, the two-term governor of the state gratuitously assisted one of the wealthiest individuals in the state in funding a volleyball arena, according to texts published by Mississippi Today.
Favre contacted Governor Bryant to speed things along. In response, Governor Bryant called Nancy New,” a motion filed on behalf of New’s Mississippi Community Education Center, reads.
The governor remained in tune on the project as it progressed. On Nov. 2, 2017, New texted Favre, “I saw the Gov last night … it’s all going to work out.”
Another text exchange sent in July 2019, features Bryant telling New that he had just finished meeting with Favre and asked her if they could help him with his arena project, which contradicts what Favre told Mississippi Today in 2020: that he had not discussed the volleyball stadium project with Bryant.