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Shannon Sharpe’s cold call to Julio Jones creates a hot mess for FOX

Michael Smith and Michael Holley wonder if Julio Jones really knew he was on TV talking to Shannon Sharpe about his status with the Falcons and say it could be a learning lesson for athletes across all sports.

On Monday, Shannon Sharpe decided to get to the bottom of the Julio Jones situation. So Sharpe called Jones. While Sharpe was on the air, with FS1’s Undisputed. And Jones said, candidly, “I’m out of there.”

It appeared that Jones didn’t know he was on the air. Sharpe didn’t say anything about being on the air until the end of the call. And it’s now becoming a mess for FOX.

Michael McCarthy and A.J. Perez of reports that the Falcons are upset with the situation, which has created (as one unnamed source dubbed it to McCarthy) a “massive stink bomb.”

“It’s become a huge deal,” an unnamed source told the publication.

The Falcons are upset because it undermines their negotiating position in any trade talks. And indeed it does. If only one serious suitor emerges for Jones, the Falcons will have a hard time saying we’ll just keep him if the offer isn’t deemed to be good enough. (If multiple serious suitors emerge, the inevitability of a trade coming from Jones’ comments will have less of an impact.)

The Falcons will surely complain to the NFL (they likely already have), and the NFL likely will complain to FOX (they likely already have). FOX likely will make Sharpe aware of the problem he has created (they likely already have). While a one-off incident like this surely won’t damage the broader relationship, FOX may have to do a tap dance on eggshells to contain the situation -- and to sufficiently persuade the powers-that-be that this won’t be happening again.

Then there’s the possibility, theoretically, of criminal liability for Sharpe. In California, both parties to a phone call must consent to the call being recorded or to others listening in. Penalties potentially apply under the California Penal Code ($2,000 fine and/or a year in jail, as noted by McCarthy and Perez) and federal law, if Jones wasn’t in California at the time the call was made. While a prosecution likely would go nowhere unless Jones pushes it, it would not be hard to prove a violation beyond a reasonable doubt.

Some at FOX undoubtedly would say that, as long as the feathers can be unruffled, it’s worth it. Both FS1 and Undisputed got plenty of exposure from the moment, flaws in the execution notwithstanding.

As one unnamed source explained it to, the producers failed to protect Sharpe from himself. Someone should have realized that it would be problematic to call Jones without letting him know in advance, and someone should have stopped it.

It quickly became obvious that the producers recognized that they have a problem. For example, they declined a request to use the footage on Tuesday’s PFT Live. That’s a courtesy routinely extended among networks, and not just to be nice. It gives a show from one network free air time on a rival network. For FOX to say “no” means that FOX knows Sharpe and his producers would have been better off seeking permission in advance, not forgiveness after the fact.