National Football League (NFL) star wide receiver Antonio Brown has been a constant topic of conversation in the sports world for months, but the publicity has really ramped up in the past few weeks. Over the past few weeks, the media reported Brown’s Week 1 suspension during his time as an Oakland Raider, then clarified Brown wasn’t actually suspended, and then reported that Brown was cut from the Raiders after he requested a release. Perhaps the biggest surprise of this saga thus far was that Brown became a member of the New England Patriots just a few hours after his release from the Raiders. Oh, and Brown also posted a recorded, private conversation with Raiders head coach Jon Gruden on YouTube, an act which could have significant legal consequences. Talk about a whirlwind.

Antonio Brown has made frequent headlines and has become a somewhat infamous troublemaker in the NFL. Brown’s current controversy started in May 2019 when he began protesting a new NFL policy that would decertify the helmet he has used for years and force him to wear a new one. He expressed his distaste by storming out of practice and attempting to sneak his old helmet onto the field. At one point, Brown even painted his old helmet to look like the new, NFL-approved helmets and crossed his fingers that no one would notice.

In early September, Brown reportedly found a helmet that he could tolerate but then earned himself a Week 1 suspension for arguing with Oakland Raiders general manager Mike Mayock. This argument apparently included threats of physical violence. Less than 24 hours after word of Brown’s suspension went out, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden dispelled the rumor and insisted that Brown would not be suspended for Week 1 following Brown’s apology to his teammates.

Here’s where Brown’s potential legal trouble comes in. On Friday, September 6th, shortly after Gruden announced Brown would play Week 1 after all, Brown took to YouTube and posted an almost two-minute video of an apparently private conversation between himself and Gruden. In the video, Gruden makes several statements to Brown, including telling him to “Please stop this (expletive) and just play football.”

Eleven U.S. states have a two-party consent rule, which requires that everyone involved in a recorded conversation give consent to the recording. Unfortunately for Brown, California is one of those states. California’s Penal Code states that anyone who intentionally records a confidential communication without all parties’ consent is subject to a maximum fine of $2,500 per violation and/or up to one year in county jail.

It’s probably safe to assume Gruden didn’t consent to being recorded. If that assumption holds, Brown broke the law in California and could be subject to a fine and up to one year of jail time if criminal charges are pursued. Brown’s video producer claims Gruden consented to Brown posting the video after it was recorded, but that doesn’t absolve Brown from culpability if charges are pressed. Illegality attaches when a person records a private conversation without all parties’ consent at the time of the recording, not after. So while Gruden’s rumored subsequent consent may be a positive indication that he won’t be pursuing charges, Brown could still face criminal charges and serious consequences.

It’s not immediately clear why Brown decided to record the conversation and post the video, but it was probably an effort to control the public narrative surrounding him and paint himself in a positive light. It is clear, however, that Brown edited the footage, obviously excluding some parts of the conversation. While that feels manipulative, it doesn’t further complicate Brown’s potential legal problems.

Mere hours after asking the Raiders to release him via Instagram on Saturday, September 7th, Brown happily announced on Twitter that he was signing with the New England Patriots. This rollercoaster surrounding Antonio Brown has been a wild one, and it’s not over. Fans and followers will wait with bated breath to see whether the star wide receiver will face criminal charges for his recording.

Rachel Bondi

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