A federal judge on Monday dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by former NFL quarterback Brett Favre against ex-NFL tight end and current ESPN personality Shannon Sharpe related to Favre's alleged involvement in an ongoing welfare fraud case in Mississippi.
Favre had accused Sharpe of making "egregiously false" statements about him in September 2022 on the Fox Sports 1 talk show "Skip and Shannon: Undisputed."
"Because Sharpe's comments are constitutionally protected rhetorical hyperbole using loose, figurative language," U.S. District Court Judge Keith Starrett wrote in a filing, "they cannot support a defamation claim as a matter of law."
The judge also emphasized that Sharpe noted on the show that Favre had not been criminally charged. More than a year later, there remain no criminal charges against the former quarterback.
Favre is one of dozens of defendants in a Mississippi civil lawsuit seeking to recoup some of the at least $77 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds that were misspent, according to a state audit published in 2020. Eight people have been indicted, six of whom have pleaded guilty. In April, a judge ruled that Favre would remain in the civil suit. He has since demanded a jury trial.
According to the state audit and civil lawsuit, Favre was paid $1.1 million in TANF funds for speeches he did not make. Favre eventually paid the money back, but the state auditor demanded Favre also pay $228,000 in interest. In addition, the athletic foundation at Favre's alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, received $5 million in TANF funds, according to the state audit. Text messages show Favre pushed state officials for funding for a new volleyball facility on campus during the time his daughter was on the team. Two concussion drug companies backed by Favre also received more than $2.1 million in TANF funds, according to the civil lawsuit.
Favre has denied any wrongdoing.
"The Court also acknowledges that from the reports in the public arena after government investigations, forensic audits, civil litigation, Favre's text messages, and Favre's own implicit admission by returning $1.1 million dollars to the State, it appears to be widely believed that the money obtained by Favre for himself and USM came from welfare funds," Starrett wrote in his dismissal.
"Although the funds may have come from the State of Mississippi, such TANF funds were intended to go to poverty-stricken families, not to fund the construction of a college volleyball [facility]."
A representative for Favre told ESPN: "We respectfully disagree with the court's decision. Mr. Sharpe's statements were unquestionably false and defamatory. We are considering our options."
A representative for Sharpe declined to comment. Sharpe later thanked his legal team in a post on social media noting the suit's dismissal.