The Mississippi welfare scandal, Brett Favre and privilege


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The welfare fund scandal involving Brett Favre has left people in shock.

A series of texts appear to show that the Pro Football Hall of Famer is pressuring former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, to fund construction of a volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi – l Favre’s alma mater and where his daughter played sports at the time – although Favre was told the misuse of state funds was potentially illegal, according to new court filings. Funding for the project was part of an investigation into millions of dollars in ill-spent public welfare funds within the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

It’s unclear how the case might unfold. But, already, this is reviving the discussion on an age-old pattern: following a scandal, white athletes seem to be treated differently from their black peers.

“People think there’s just more vitriol directed at black athletes when they do wrongdoing or look like they’re wrong – and I think that’s more than fair. While no one is defending Favre, there’s not this loud cry that he should lose everything. pointed out journalist Jemele Hill on Twitter.

“People almost always want a pound of flesh when it comes to black athletes, and that’s often relentless. So sometimes it’s not about the coverage, it’s about the tone,” she added.

To dig deeper, I spoke with Harry Edwards, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley whose research interests include race relations and the sociology of sport. He is also the author of the 1969 book “The Revolt of the Black Athlete”, about activism among black athletes.

Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What did you think when you first heard about the scandal involving Brett Favre?

Well, on the one hand, I knew Favre’s history, even when he was playing in the league, so at that level, I didn’t think anything like that was outside of his ability, let’s say.

On the other hand, there is a lot of publicity around this case. He hasn’t been charged with anything at this point, let alone found guilty of anything. But he has become the face of this tragic situation.

The people who should also be the face of this situation are the former governor, the people who administer the funds, etc. But, instead, because of his fame, Favre became the poster child for ripping off the poor in the poorest state in the country.

Jemele Hill recently noted that black athletes often face more vitriol following an allegation of wrongdoing. Would you agree that this is a theme?

Absolutely. We can view this situation as part of the fabric of white privilege in American society. When a white athlete behaves in a hateful way, the incident tends to be athletic, which is typical when it comes to a sports celebrity. But it’s also whitewashed. That’s the white privilege element of it.

For example, people have talked for decades about Jack Johnson – the first black American heavyweight boxing world champion – and his romantic and casual relationships with women. (He had several interracial relationships throughout the early 20th century.)

If you compare Johnson to Babe Ruth (the legendary baseball player, who was white and also involved in various affairs), you couldn’t get a credit card between them. But Ruth wasn’t just sport-washed; it was whitewashed. It has become a situation of masculinity, prowess, virility. But it became a degenerating issue with Johnson. So it goes back decades. There is whitewashing which is done in combination with sports washing.

sports washing: It’s a term I don’t know. Could you elaborate more on what this means?

Athletic stardom involves such investment by masses of people. I mean, what kind of allegiance does it take to walk around in a jersey with someone else’s name on it? This type of allegiance is very difficult to reverse unless it involves something perceived to have greater sentimental or political, religious, personal or racial value.

For example, people who had worn Colin Kaepernick’s jersey began burning it when he knelt in protest against police brutality against black people. Something involving ripping off poor people, especially poor black people? I don’t think people are going to burn Favre’s jersey for that.

This strikes me as one of those situations where sport trumps common decency, not least because the athlete was a winner. It’s what people buy.

What will you be watching for in the coming weeks?

It will be interesting to see how everything develops and how long the issue will remain at the center of discussions, especially since a less valued group is victimized and the scandal involves one of the greatest quarterbacks in history. of the NFL. Ultimately, that’s what I’m looking for. It will also be interesting to see how the NFL reacts.


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