October 31, 2023
The court recognized Shannon’s right to freedom of speech!
According to AP News, on Oct. 30, a federal judge dismissed Brett Favre’s defamation lawsuit against retired NFL player Shannon Sharpe, stating that Sharpe’s remarks about Favre’s connection to a welfare misspending case in Mississippi were constitutionally protected speech.
U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett ruled that Sharpe’s comments, made during a sports broadcast, amounted to “rhetorical hyperbole.” In his remarks on air, Sharpe had stated that Favre was “taking from the underserved,” and he “stole money from people that really needed that money,” and that one would have to be a “sorry person” to “steal from the lowest of the low.”
Favre filed the defamation lawsuit against Sharpe in February, claiming that the statements made on the Fox Sports talk show Skip and Shannon: Undisputed were “egregiously false.” The case was moved to federal court in March, and Sharpe left the show in June.
The discussion surrounding Mississippi’s welfare spending on Undisputed came in the wake of extensive news coverage regarding allegations of the state’s most significant public corruption case.
Mississippi Auditor Shad White revealed that the Mississippi Department of Human Services misspent over $77 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program between 2016 and 2019. This funding was intended to aid some of the nation’s most impoverished individuals.
Prosecutors alleged that the department provided funds to nonprofit organizations that diverted the money to projects favored by affluent and well-connected individuals, including a $5 million volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi. Brett Favre had agreed to raise funds for this project.
In his ruling, Judge Starrett explained that Sharpe’s use of the terms “taking” and “stole” referred to diverting TANF funds “for purposes other than helping the underprivileged.” He further stated that Sharpe’s colorful speech about “people that really needed that money,” the “lowest of the low,” and “the underserved” fell under constitutionally protected language.
Favre, although not facing criminal charges, is among the more than three dozen individuals or businesses that Mississippi is suing to recover misspent welfare funds. In addition to his lawsuit against Sharpe, Favre had also filed defamation suits against Auditor Shad White and sportscaster Pat McAfee, which is still pending.
Favre has repaid $1.1 million in speaking fees he received from a nonprofit group that used TANF funds with the approval of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. The state demanded up to $5 million in December against Favre and a university sports foundation, claiming that welfare money was improperly used to fund a volleyball arena at Favre’s alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi. Text message exchanges revealed discussions about directing money to the facility.
Following the dismissal of the lawsuit, Sharpe expressed his gratitude to his legal team on X, formerly known as Twitter. Favre’s attorney, Michael Shemper, was contacted by APNews for comment regarding the lawsuit’s dismissal but had not responded by the time of reporting.
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