Brett Favre Asks Appeal Court to Reinstate His Defamation Suit Against Shannon Sharpe

FILE – Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre speaks with media, Oct. 17, 2018, in Jackson, Mississippi. A deposition hearing in a civil lawsuit against Favre over a Mississippi welfare scandal has been postponed at the request of the athlete’s lawyers, according to a court document filed Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

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

A federal judge in Mississippi dismissed the lawsuit in October, finding that Sharpe had used constitutionally protected speech in a sports broadcast by criticizing Favre’s connection to the welfare misuse case.

Sharpe said during a September 2022 broadcast of Fox Sports’ “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” that Favre “was taking money from people who didn’t have access to services,” that he “stole money from people who really needed it” and that someone would have to be a pathetic person “to steal from the lowest of the low.”

Mississippi State Auditor Shad White found that Favre was wrongly paid $1.1 million in speaking fees by a nonprofit that spent the TANF money with the approval of the Department of Human Services. Favre paid back the $1.1 million, but White said in a February court filing that the former quarterback still owes $729,790 in interest.

Favre, who lives in Mississippi, denies wrongdoing and has not been criminally charged. He is one of more than three dozen people or companies sued by the state Department of Human Services.

In an October ruling, District Judge Keith Starrett said Sharpe’s comments in the case constituted constitutionally protected “rhetorical exaggeration.”

“No reasonable person listening to the broadcast would have thought that Favre was actually going into poor people’s homes and taking their money — that he had committed the crime of larceny/theft against any particular poor person in the state of Mississippi,” Starrett wrote.

Favre’s attorneys said in a brief that the ruling mischaracterized Sharpe’s remarks. “Here, a reasonable listener could and would interpret Sharpe’s repeated statements that Favre ‘stole money’ from the ‘underserved’ as factual allegations about Favre,” they said.

Sharpe’s attorneys argued in their filings that Starrett was correct to call Sharpe’s remarks “loose, metaphorical language used by media commentators about a serious public controversy that carries significant significance for the discourse of our country.”