Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre's charity, Favre 4 Hope, donated more than $130,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation from 2018 to 2020, according to tax records obtained by ESPN on Wednesday.
During this same period, Favre was trying to raise money for a new volleyball stadium at the university, where he played football and his daughter was on the volleyball team. Funds for that stadium are under scrutiny in the largest public fraud case in Mississippi state history.
Favre 4 Hope, whose mission statement says it provides support "for disadvantaged and disabled children and breast cancer patients," receives public donations. Tax records show that in 2018, the foundation gave the USM Athletic Foundation $60,000. Every other organization received $10,000. In 2019, the USM Athletic Foundation received $46,817. The next highest donation, to the Special Olympics of Mississippi, was $11,000. The next year, Favre 4 Hope donated $26,175 to the USM Athletic Foundation while no other organization received more than $10,000.
Between 2011 and 2017, the year his daughter enrolled at USM, Favre 4 Hope gave the Athletic Foundation a combined $47,900. (Tax records were not available for 2016.) In 2015, when Favre's daughter played volleyball at Oak Grove High School, his foundation gave the school's booster club $60,000, tax records show. In 2013, the booster club received $10,000 from Favre 4 Hope.
"He has been very generous to Southern Miss since he played ball there," Favre's attorney Bud Holmes told ESPN on Wednesday evening. "Those particular things [the donations in question] I don't know, but I know he has always given back, something most athletes don't do."
The legality of these donations is unclear, but Laurie Styron, executive director of watchdog group Charity Watch, told ESPN that groups like Favre 4 Hope have an ethical obligation to spend funds the way donors intended.
"If the charity told donors it was raising money for breast cancer but then spends the resulting donations on an athletic facility, the people running the organization are not fulfilling their obligations to spend the nonprofit's donations the way its donors intended," she said.
"Charities are not personal piggy banks for their founders to tap into for pet projects. Celebrity athletes don't get a free pass, and if anything, should feel more of a personal obligation to set a good example by operating not only legally within the rules, but ethically so."
The Athletic first reported the donations made by Favre's charity to the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation.
Favre, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is involved in a sprawling investigation into Mississippi's welfare spending. He received $1.1 million in speaking fees for appearances he allegedly never made, according to a state auditor. He said he did not know where the funds came from and paid the money back, though the state is still seeking $228,000 in interest. Text messages show Favre was also involved in diverting at least $5 million in welfare funds to the volleyball stadium.
Favre has not been criminally charged. His attorney previously denied to Mississippi Today that the Hall of Famer knew he received welfare funds.