This year’s NFL draft was full of several unexpected twists and turns, but none was as bizarre as the Laremy Tunsil saga.
For those of you that need a quick recap: Tunsil, a standout offensive tackle from Ole Miss, was expected at one point to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, but then all the quarterback drama (re: Rams and Eagles making moves to secure Jared Goff and Carson Wentz) happened. The Ravens were reportedly about to draft Tunsil with the No. 6 pick when, right before the draft, his Twitter account was hacked and a video of him smoking a substance (likely marijuana) using a gas mask was posted.
The tweet was deleted a few minutes later, but the Ravens saw it and have pretty much admitted that the video made the difference in their decision in choosing Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley over Tunsil. And to make matters worse, right after Tunsil was picked up by the Dolphins with the No. 13 pick, his Instagram account was hacked and a picture of a text conversation, allegedly between Tunsil and an Ole Miss assistant A.D., revealed that Tunsil had taken money from an Ole Miss coach to pay for his mother’s rent and electric bills — something he later confirmed during a press conference.
It might be more cohesive to write a column that focuses on one aspect of this commotion, but there are too many layers to this story to concentrate on only one of them and ignore the rest. I’m going to try to tackle several of them, or at least the ones I see — bear with me here.
1. Roger Goodell not only reaffirmed his status as sports’s greatest villain but also showed that he’s a buffoon that is out of touch with the league, his players and reality.
It’s not that I expect anything better from the Commish; he generally finds ways to confirm that he is on a different planet, but this time he actually made me wonder whether he was the one who was smoking something with 1) his encouragement to fans at the draft to “bring it on” when they booed him as he appeared on stage and, more importantly, 2) his comments on the Mike & Mike show about the Tunsil situation.
“I think it’s all part of what makes the draft so exciting,” Goodell said. “Clubs make decisions. Sometimes they take risks. Sometimes they do the right things. Sometimes they don’t, and we’ll see. Hopefully he is going to turn out to be a great young player.”
Because that’s exactly what the targeted hacking and defamation of a 21-year-old — which had and may continue to have a significant impact on his career — is: entertaining.
While the Dolphins picked up Tunsil, he did lose over $6 million (minimum) when the Ravens passed on him and he dropped seven spots. He does have a spot on the team and will get paid, but the poor guy’s world came crashing down on him, what was supposed to be the best day of his life turned into a nightmare and the repercussions of what happened will very likely affect how he is viewed around the league for years to come.
Honestly, Goodell’s comments don’t even sound like they’re referencing the same situation that everyone else saw. At least the NFL is sticking to its guns in not truly caring about the well-being of its athletes. Sound familiar?
2. This saga serves as a reminder of the ongoing importance of the debate over paying college athletes.
Now I’m not as versed in this issue as my colleague Cameron Miller is (I wouldn’t be surprised if he writes about what happened to Tunsil in his weekly column). But at the heart of this story — at least the debacle with Ole Miss — is a son who is trying to find a way to support his family. In having to ask for money from Ole Miss, Tunsil’s financial difficulties reflect a harsh reality for many college athletes, and the exposure of the deal, as well as his admission that it was true, may have a place in the ongoing narrative over the payment of college athletes.
What frustrates me to no end — and to me is one of the more compelling agreements in support of paying college athletes — is that Tunsil, who besides not getting paid, can’t profit from endorsements or memorabilia sales, and so he had little choice other than to approach his coach. In the meantime, the Ole Miss football staff as a whole, the university and the NCAA are sitting on piles of money built off of his performance on the field.
Now, I’m not saying college athletes should be hitting up their coaches to pay their families’ bills left and right. But his situation is a reality that needs to be addressed by the NCAA (and by universities in general) in some way. And as more stories like Tunsil’s come up, it’ll get increasingly difficult for the NCAA to ignore the payment question and for people to turn a blind eye to the issue.
3. Should Tunsil’s gaffe be an impetus for the league to revise its marijuana policy?
I don’t particularly blame the Ravens — which, I should admit, are my hometown team — for not taking Tunsil. They have been scandal-ridden enough with the Ray Rice situation (though much of this, I must say, was self-inflicted), and when the video came out, they drafted the safer bet, keeping in mind the importance of their present and future image as an organization and trying to limit off-field drama.
After all, Tunsil had been involved with some of that even before the draft. He has committed NCAA violations, including receiving impermissible benefits, and was arrested for domestic violence against his stepfather, Lindsey Miller, who had allegedly pushed Tunsil’s mother (Tunsil said he was trying to protect his mother during the confrontation). While the two men had agreed to drop charges against each other, Miller filed a lawsuit against Tunsil two days before the draft.
Yet this backstory was something the Ravens were aware of prior to the draft, and they had planned on drafting Tunsil anyway (whether or not that is “right” is a different story). The gas mask video was thus the game-changer, yet I’m not sure if it should have been.
I’m not here to make a point about the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana nationwide or the stigma around people who smoke, but NFL and owners/GMs might want to reconsider their staunch anti-pot mentality and policies. (Many football players and athletes have cited marijuana as a preferable substitute to painkillers for relieving their bodies of the agony of smashing into each other day after day.) Plus, it’s pretty disheartening that players in the league who are caught with marijuana are punished as much or more so than players who are charged with domestic violence (think Josh Gordon vs. Brandon Marshall/Greg Hardy/Ray Rice, prior to his elevator video surfacing).
There are still a lot of question marks surrounding Laremy Tunsil: While what happened to him was not fair, we really don’t know enough about him to judge who he is. He called what happened in the video a “mistake” and swore he didn’t have a drug problem, but who are we to know? In addition, the details of his family situation are still incredibly murky. Yet at the end of the day, we can judge how the NFL responded to the drama of Thursday night and identify room for improvement in how the league (and the NCAA) approaches issues concerning their players and their overall well-being.
Alexa Philippou still maintains that Ray Lewis is innocent. Question her at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.