The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Brett Favre’s charity reportedly donated to Southern Mississippi athletics

The Wellness Center is the home court for the University of Southern Mississippi women’s volleyball team. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

Brett Favre’s “Favre 4 Hope” charity, which was created to support “disadvantaged and disabled children and breast cancer patients,” donated more than $130,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation from 2018 to 2020, tax records obtained by the Athletic and ESPN show.

At the same time, the Hall of Fame quarterback was trying to raise money for a new volleyball stadium at the university where he played football and his daughter was a member of the volleyball team. The funding for that stadium is under investigation in a widening state welfare scandal involving tens of millions of dollars.

Brett Favre is the face of a scandal, but Mississippi’s issues go deeper

Favre 4 Hope, which receives public donations, reportedly gave the USM Athletic Foundation $60,000 in 2018, when the charity’s other beneficiaries received $10,000 each. The USM Athletic Foundation received $46,817 in 2019, with the Special Olympics of Mississippi receiving $11,000, the next-highest donation. In 2020, The USM Athletic Foundation received $26,175 from Favre 4 Hope, and no other organization was given more than $10,000.

According to records, between 2011 and 2017 (the year Favre’s daughter Breleigh enrolled at the school), Favre 4 Hope reportedly gave the Athletic Foundation a combined $47,900. (Tax records were not available for 2016.) When Breleigh Favre played volleyball at Oak Grove High in 2015, his foundation reportedly gave the school’s booster club $60,000. The booster club was given $10,000 in 2013.

“He has been very generous to Southern Miss since he played ball there,” Favre’s attorney Bud Holmes told ESPN. “Those particular things I don’t know, but I know he has always given back, something most athletes don’t do.”

From May: Brett Favre sued by state of Mississippi over welfare misspending

The documents don’t show whether conditions were placed on the USM Athletic Foundation or Oak Grove Booster Club, but experts questioned whether the money aligned with Favre 4 Hope’s stated mission.

“There’s the letter of the law, there’s the spirit of the law, and it’s something where it would probably be tough to make a legal case but it still doesn’t look good,” Rick Cohen, chief operating officer of the National Council of Nonprofits, told the Athletic. “It isn’t unheard of for a nonprofit to expand its mission or change its mission over time if they find they need to redirect. That does not seem to be the case here.”

The spiraling welfare case has embroiled the state’s former governor, Favre and professional wrestlers, among others, and although Favre has been linked to just a small fraction of the government money alleged to have been misused by state officials, he has emerged as a public face of the scandal. During his 20-year NFL career, he earned some $140 million and millions more in endorsement deals.

Favre received $1.1 million intended for welfare recipients in exchange for speeches and appearances the state auditor says he never made, and text messages included in court filings show Favre was heavily involved in discussions that resulted in $5 million in welfare money going toward the construction of the volleyball facility.

He is among the subjects of a civil suit filed by the state of Mississippi but hasn’t been charged criminally. He has denied any wrongdoing and returned $1.1 million to the state, which says he owes $228,000 in interest on.

Favre and his wife, Deanna, started Favre 4 Hope, which at first was called the Brett L. Favre Foundation, in 1995, the quarterback’s fourth season with the Green Bay Packers, and directed money to, among other charities, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Green Bay and Gulfport, Miss., and Gaits To Success, an equine therapy program in Favre’s hometown of Kiln, Miss. In the charity’s first decade-plus, the Athletic reported that it donated small amounts to a large number of beneficiaries. In 2007, 44 organizations received grants, including 19 for $5,000 or less. Starting in 2009, the list of charities never topped 14 and the size of the donations grew.

A year after her 2004 breast cancer diagnosis, Deanna Favre launched her own foundation, which merged with Favre’s to form Favre 4 Hope. Its mission statement added breast cancer patients and included Minnesota, where Favre played his final two NFL seasons, as an area of focus.