Brett Favre Was Always Pretty Awful

The man likes attention. Photo: Jeff Haynes/AFP via Getty Images

One could make an argument that sports blogs — and, by extension, the entire modern sports internet — really came into their own thanks to Brett Favre. They were summoned into existence so fans could make public what they had been yelling at their televisions in private for years. And no one ever made you want to yell at your television more than Brett Favre.

His style of play certainly had something to do with it. Favre was the ultimate let’s-do-it-and-be-legends lunatic as a quarterback, blessed with a howitzer of an arm and a ceaseless, almost megalomaniacal confidence in it: There was no throw Favre didn’t think he could make, often to his team’s detriment. (He still holds the NFL all-time interceptions record with 336, and with each passing year, his mark seems more and more untouchable; only one active quarterback, Tom Brady, who’s 28th all-time, is within 130 of him, despite playing three more seasons.) The final postseason interception of Favre’s career, when he was trying to lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl, remains one of the worst and most profoundly stupid passes in NFL history. You can actually hear the souls of Vikings fans being sucked out of their bodies in this video.

But what truly made you want to throw a brick through the TV was the way the broadcasters treated him. Favre was mistake prone, cocksure, heedlessly self-destructive, and so pigheaded that you wondered if his brain was capable of consuming and retaining new information. But to the broadcasters of his games — and the media who covered him — Favre wasn’t a foolhardy hothead. He was a gunslinger. That was the term they always used: gunslinger. He wasn’t imprecise and impulsive; he just trusted his gut. Favre was forever elevated to a sort of frontier sheriff, the final-justice cowboy of a mythical western. Other teams had “stats” and “game plans” and “rational decision-making.” Favre’s teams had Favre. And Favre ate it all up, acting the homespun Mississippi boy who just was drawin’ plays in the dirt out there. He also wrung every bit of indulgent drama out of his career — what team he might sign with next; whether he was going to support his successor, Aaron Rodgers; whether he was going to retire, or unretire, or retire again. He actually had news stations tracking his flights and bus rides from the airport. Nobody wanted the spotlight more than Favre, and the sports industrial complex was ever so eager to give it to him. Favre Rage was a phenomenon that launched a thousand bloggers.

Despite his own fair share of actual shady behavior over the years, including most famously his infamous sexts to a Jets team employee, Favre remained a hugely successful pitchman for dozens of companies and even a power broker in Mississippi politics; his endorsement of Cindy Hyde-Smith in 2018 was thought to be a significant boost to her campaign.

But now it seems he has done something unethical enough that nobody — not his lawmaker friends, not his onetime legion of defenders in the press — is making excuses for him anymore. Favre is enmeshed in a truly outrageous scandal in Mississippi, where local newspapers have reported that he not only sought and received public funds for the construction of a volleyball stadium for his daughter’s team at the University of Southern Mississippi (Favre’s alma mater) but that he transferred those funds from welfare programs meant for the poorest citizens of one of America’s poorest states. And it’s not just that Favre wanted the money. It’s that he knew what he was doing looked extremely shady and was desperate not to get caught. (To make matters worse, he also suggested “the prison industry” as a possible builder for the facility.)

Reading over the texts between Favre and various Mississippi politicians, one can draw a clear through-line between the reverence that football commentators had for him and that of the local politicians — and how willing both were to look past all his problems. The obsequiousness is pretty staggering. Nonprofit director Nancy New (the one in charge of the welfare funds under the direction of then-Governor Phil Bryant) made it clear in the released texts that she would do whatever she could to protect Favre, and Bryant himself texted Favre, after Favre requested the funds, that “we will get there” and “we have to follow the law. I am to [sic] old for Federal Prison. [smiley face, sunglasses emoji.]” Favre got the funds soon thereafter. Oh, and he also no-showed several appearances he was contracted to make for the state and refused to pay back the money he had been paid for those no-shows. But why would Favre feel he needed to do anything he was required to? He has been revered in his home state for so long he seemed to think he could get away with anything.

Now, for the first time in his life, Favre may be held accountable for his actions. He has already lost several sponsorships, even though the scandal appears to be in its infancy, and SiriusXM has paused his football radio show. That the new text messages in which Bryant tries to slow Favre’s roll seem to have come from Bryant’s camp itself — in a clear move to try to separate the former governor from Favre — is a sign that Favre is a name everyone involved is trying to sprint away from right now.

It’s tempting to think that after various reckonings over the past decade, our culture is a bit less tolerant of Favre’s baseline brand of behavior than it was when he retired in 2010. Perhaps there’s some truth to that. But really, this is a story of someone who, by and large, has been impervious to consequences learning that there’s a limit to what he can get away with. That he’s finally facing some consequences for his behavior is refreshing — but long overdue.

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Brett Favre Was Always Pretty Awful