Sports

Brett Favre is asking an appeals court to reinstate his defamation lawsuit 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 a fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame member, former tight end Shannon Sharpe, amid the backdrop of a Mississippi welfare scandal that is one of the state's largest public corruption cases.

A federal judge in Mississippi threw out the lawsuit in October, saying Sharpe used constitutionally protected speech on a sports broadcast when he criticized Favre's connection to the welfare misspending case.

Favre's lawyer, Amit Vora, told three 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges 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 was “taking from the underserved,” that he “stole money from people that really needed that money” and that someone would have to be a sorry person “to steal from the lowest of the low.”

“That’s actionable defamation, because that reasonable listener is taking the word steal literally and not figuratively,” Vora said.

Sharpe's attorney, Joseph Terry, told the judges that Sharpe's remarks were clearly an opinion offered when he was asked about a news report on the Mississippi welfare scandal and how the reports will affect Favre's legacy.

“If you read his comments in context, it’s quite clear that he was expressing his opinions rhetorically,” Terry said.

The panel gave no indication when it would rule.

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

Among White's findings was that Favre improperly received $1.1 million in speaking fees from a nonprofit organization that spent TANF money with approval from the Department of Human Services. The money was to go toward a $5 million volleyball arena at The University of Southern Mississippi, which he attended and where his daughter was playing the sport.

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

Favre, who lives in Mississippi, has denied wrongdoing and is not facing criminal charges. He is among more than three dozen people or companies being sued by the state Department of Human Services.

U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett's October ruling said Sharpe's remarks about the case were constitutionally protected “rhetorical hyperbole.”

“Here, 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 theft/larceny against any particular poor person in Mississippi,” Starrett wrote.

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

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