By Adam Roseberry
Brett Favre is synonymous with the National Football League. Fans everywhere recognize the name of the Super-Bowl-winning hall-of-fame quarterback. Favre is still a name people connect with athletic achievement. He played in the NFL from 1991 to 2010, set several records for quarterback statistics, and was named the most valuable player of the league three times.
Nearly 13 years after retirement, Favre’s NFL reputation has all but faded as his name continually pops up in unflattering stories and headlines.
Recently, Favre has become embroiled in a huge and still unfolding story involving the embezzlement of millions of dollars from the State of Mississippi’s welfare funds.
According to the Associated Press, Favre received 1.1 million dollars from the State Department of Human Services (by way of a nonprofit called the Mississippi Community Education Center) for several speaking engagements.
Favre never made an appearance at any sort of speaking engagement, and didn’t honor the contract.
Favre has since paid back the $1.1 million, although he still owes $288,000 to the state in interest. It is worth noting that Favre did not pay the money back until the State of Mississippi sued him and the issue became known to the public.
The AP also reports that Favre suggested the welfare money be used to invest in the biotech firm Odyssey Health. The state then funneled $2.1 million to the company as a result. Favre is listed as “the largest individual outside investor” of Odyssey Health, so it is reasonable to infer that he was working with his own gain in mind.
His actions notwithstanding, Favre is wrongly being portrayed as the face of this scandal.
Informed readers cannot ignore the fact that the scandal involves roughly 77 million misappropriated dollars. Favre is estimated to be responsible for anywhere from $1 to $8 million in mis-used funds, which is only a small slice of a bigger issue.
Despite Favre’s relatively small involvement, most headlines on the subject of the scandal find a way to sneak in his name. And it is easy to blame Favre. He did some despicable and selfish things. However, Favre’s fame is blowing the coverage of his role in this scandal out of proportion. His name grabs attention unlike anyone else involved in the issue. It’s not fair to make Favre out to be the main perpetrator of an issue that extends far beyond his reach.
As a natural result of connecting many stories in the scandal to Favre, the national media has undercovered people like John Davis, the former executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, who recently pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the State of Mississippi of millions of dollars in federal funds according to Mississippi Today.
That’s not to say Davis and other members of the state government involved in the scandal haven’t been covered at all. The media has certainly given them attention, especially in Mississippi.
However, the national media appears to be grabbing attention by inserting Favre’s name into many stories and headlines about the welfare scandal when in reality he’s not the main perpetrator here, and shouldn’t be covered as such.
The average headline skimming reader will no doubt connect this scandal solely to the former quarterback. Instead of the “Mississippi welfare scandal” it has become the “Brett Favre welfare scandal”
Why does that matter, anyway? Does it have any real consequence if Favre takes the brunt of the anger for the scandal, while other people of less fame slink away from the scorn of the court of public opinion?
Coverage of an event like this should be fair to all involved, giving blame in an equitable fashion. In an ideal world, the personal fame of those involved in a story such as this should not factor into the headline.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case in the real world. Whoever has the most fame will garner the most attention, so they are used to encourage readership, or “get clicks”.
Focusing on the famous involved in a scandal can help larger contributors escape punishment, or at least hide some of their wrongdoing. While the general public focuses on the red herring of a celebrity involved in a minor part of a story, more involved perpetrators can push things under the table that may never see the light of day.
As readers, we should want coverage to be fair for that reason. Fairness to those involved helps readers know exactly what is occurring, which is the point of all news at its core. As such, it should be our desire to see that in the media.
Take the Jamal Lewis scandal of 2004. Lewis, then a star running back for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, was indicted in a large drug case. Because of his fame Lewis was the subject of nearly all the media’s attention to the case, even though he played only a minor part.
Favre’s situation is very similar to that of Lewis. He has done something wrong, but it’s a minor part of a major story.
While Favre is deserving of criticism and punishment for his role in the scandal, it is unfair to make him the scapegoat of the entire event.