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CHICAGO — Next summer, when the HBO show "Ballers" begins its second season and the NFL tries to dismiss its wild storylines as just the work of fiction and not representative of real life inside the league … just remember that on draft night 2016, a top prospect tumbled through the first round because minutes before the event a video of him smoking something, presumably marijuana, while wearing a gas mask was released on his own Twitter account, which he claimed was hacked, perhaps, some speculated, by his own stepfather who had sued him two days prior. Then, less than two hours later (you thought that was it?) his Instagram revealed screenshots of text conversations allegedly between the player and an assistant athletic director at his college where he asked for payments for rent and his mom's utility bills, which are violations of NCAA statutes.
There is a lot in that paragraph.
Go ahead and reread it and try not to laugh while we all wait to see what pops up on Laremy Tunsil's LinkedIn.
No, it wasn't all that fun for Tunsil, the prospect and gas-mask wearer in question, but all's well that ends well, and it did for the very talented Ole Miss offensive tackle. He wound up going 13th to the Miami Dolphins. At one point in the draft process, he was expected to be a top-three selection, so he lost some early money (around $10 million) but it's all about what he does now.
"I can't control things who gets in my phone, and hacking my Instagram, my Twitter," Tunsil said. "I'm just blessed to be part of the Miami Dolphins organization."
And it probably wasn't all that fun for Ole Miss, which has some explaining to do, although as long as Tunsil doesn't cooperate with NCAA investigators, the university can likely deny, deny and deny some more. The NCAA struggles to catch a cold; it isn't getting Hugh Freeze's Rebels.
The more poignant point of the story is that while Tunsil was helping Ole Miss football make tens of millions of dollars he appears to have been relegated to begging for someone to pay $305 so his mother back in Lake City, Fla., could keep her lights on and water running.
"[I don't know] what's going on; I thought everything was in the rent," Tunsil allegedly wrote, suggesting Ole Miss was paying that, too.
At his draft night news conference, first Tunsil denied that he took money from any coaches, then when asked again apparently admitted the accuracy of the Instagram-posted screenshots of texts between he and John Miller, an associate athletic director for football operations.
"I made a mistake," Tunsil said. "A huge mistake. You know things happen."
So, he was asked for clarity: Was there an exchange between you and your coach for money?
"I'd have to say, yeah," Tunsil said.
It seems clear but it's not entirely certain Tunsil really had any idea what he was specifically answering. The Ole Miss part of the social media disaster broke after he was drafted. The entire situation was surreal. When asked again, a public relations representative from the NFL ended the interview and hustled him off, serving as a blocker for the blocker.
"He has no more comments," the public relations woman said. "This all happened while he was up here."
It was that kind of night.
The Twitter video of Tunsil taking a bong hit while wearing a gas mask appeared online just before the draft began here. It was wild enough and left Tunsil stuck sitting in the green room for a couple hours as cameras focused on him and he had to listen to the NFL Network broadcast discuss how he was dropping like a rock because of the absurd video.
"Gas mask," the analysts kept saying, which isn't usually part of the draft-night parlance.
Team Tunsil tried to lessen the impact by claiming the video was from a couple years ago, noting that he didn't fail any drug tests at Ole Miss (don't laugh) and arguing it was just unfortunate that this got out for such a good guy. The last part is true. Whomever did it was attempting to hurt Tunsil's draft status and generally embarrass him and his college team.
Some speculation centered on Tunsil's estranged stepfather, who is suing him, but his stepfather denied any involvement to TMZ, which is important because this circus wouldn't be complete without TMZ getting involved.
Tunsil said he didn't know who was responsible or who could have gotten access to his passwords, social media accounts or video and text exchanges.
"I just have my password," Tunsil said. "That's my password. I don't know how it got out."
What exactly was this secret code that was so easily and often figured out – "password" or "12345"?
For a guy in the middle of a hacking, a betrayal and an epic draft-night slide, Tunsil seemed pretty relaxed and in good cheer. After all, he did get drafted in the first round, which is pretty cool no matter how it goes down. Mostly he looked like he just didn't care and didn't want it to ruin his big night.
"I was just happy to be in the green room," Tunsil said. "I'm happy for everybody who went before me. It gave me a chip on my shoulder. I'm just pleased to be anywhere."
In the long run, none of this matters if he truly has no issue with marijuana that could run him afoul with NFL rules.
If so, then Miami was one of the draft's big winners. They land an athletic 6-5, 315-pound lineman who had twice been named All-SEC. Maybe it was no coincidence considering "Ballers" centers around the Dolphins.
Yes there was video of him smoking, but in the real world of college football no NFL teams expects that the guy they are drafting hasn't smoked. And yes there seemed to be a pulling back of the curtain on payments that run afoul with the NCAA, but no NFL team expects that the guy they are drafting didn't get under-the-table payments. Also, who cares about the NCAA?
Besides, Tunsil sat out seven games last season because his stepfather claimed he'd been taking payments from an agents, so no one thought he was an altar boy. He's paid to push around defensive lineman and nothing else. He wound up returning, finishing his junior year and then declaring for the draft, a huge talent that expected a draft night to remember by going as high as No. 1 overall.
It was memorable, just via an unprecedented, but rather entertaining, script. That's the NFL though. Always and forever.
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