It was tough to watch Laremy Tunsil’s slide down the NFL draft board two weeks ago. It might have been even harder to watch the social media reaction that followed.
Like most, I initially thought Tunsil had made a mistake at the worst possible time. It turned out someone was out to get him. That someone is widely considered to be his stepfather (though he has since denied it), who may have been working with one of Tunsil’s former advisors. But whoever was responsible, the result was that one of the top overall prospects in the draft fell all the way to 13th, and lost millions of dollars in the process.
Maybe this shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, everyone in Tunsil’s position — getting ready to receive a huge sum of money — is subject to Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
In Tunsil’s case, minutes before the draft, a video was leaked showing him taking a bong hit.
Here’s what the NFL said about him before the draft:
“From a talent and technique standpoint, Tunsil is easily cleanest offensive lineman in the 2016 draft and might be the cleanest prospect period. Tunsil showed signs of rust against Texas A&M in his first game back from a seven-game suspension, and he still kept Myles Garrett in check. Tunsil lacks pure power, but has the body control to be a quality run blocker in space and on levels. Ultimately, his feet, technique and instincts could make him an all-pro and one of the top pass protectors in the NFL.”
Tunsil, who should have been enjoying a night of celebration, quickly became fodder for a notoriously savage base of online commenters. All of a sudden, his ability to play solid football at a key position came into question.
But I was skeptical. I knew there had to be a story behind the timing of the release of the video.
Maybe Tunsil’s stepfather and former advisor did try to extort him. Maybe they were smarting from Tunsil’s decision to distance himself from them. Or maybe Tunsil wanted to be proactive, to get ahead of a potential scandal before he got drafted, like so many others have failed to. After all, he knew the video was out there.
The fact he smoked weed isn’t a problem for me. Let’s be real, unless you went to a very strict college, you probably enjoyed some of what college has to offer. I know I did and, consequently, it would be hypocritical for me to shame Tunsil for his actions.
When The Notorious B.I.G. quipped “Mo’ Money. Mo’ Problems,” this is what he was talking about. When you’ve “made it,” everyone wants in on the action. Before guys in Tunsil’s position know it, friends, family and even casual acquaintances come out of the woodwork asking for money.
Remember Dallas Cowboys All-Pro offensive tackle Tyron Smith, who had to distance himself from his family when they tried to extort him? How about former Oakland Raider Phillip Buchanon, whose mother demanded $1 million dollars from him after he was drafted? Or Kobe Bryant’s mother, who sold off some of his high school belongings without permission?
This sort of situation is way out of the realm of possibility for most of us. Hell, most of our families are content if we make it out of the house. Most pro athletes wish they had it that easy.
Buchanon explained as much to Fox Sports:
“Soon after the draft, she told me that I owed her a million dollars for raising me for the past 18 years. Well, that was news to me. If my mother taught me anything, it’s that this is the most desperate demand that a parent can make on a child. The covenant of having a child is simply that you give your child everything possible, and they owe you nothing beyond a normal amount of love and respect. There is no financial arrangement. If you get old and infirm, and your kids are around to help you out at that point, then you’re lucky. It’s not written in the social contract. The mothers and fathers of the world have been rearing their kids for generations — in every culture imaginable — and it’s a one-way street when it comes to money. If they pay you back someday, and you really are going through hard times, then that’s just a bonus, a gratuity for being a great mother or father.”
This kind of story is not unique to Buchanon; most pro athletes are confronted with a difficult choice when it is time to leave the old life, and certain people, behind. They hear stuff like, “You’ve changed,” “You’re uppity now,” and my personal favorite thinly-veiled threat, “Don’t forget where you come from.”
During ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, “Broke,” former coach and current analyst Herm Edwards said it best: “It’s hard to tell people that you love ‘no.'”
On the outside looking in, it’s impossible to really know what life is like as a pro athlete. I once asked a high school football teammate who played six seasons in the NFL about this stuff. He was very blunt in his assertion that fans and media “don’t know s–t.” I soon realized he was right. I often tell friends there’s a wide gap between what’s reported and what’s actually going on, and Tunsil is just the latest example.
One bong hit drew the ire of the ever-hypocritical NFL and its teams. It’s very hard to take the league’s moral outrage seriously when teams like the Chicago Bears, who previously signed a known woman-beater in Ray McDonald, and the Baltimore Ravens, who tried to downplay a vicious incident involving Ray Rice and his then-fiancee, pass on Tunsil due to “character concerns.”
In the same draft in which Tunsil fell to the 13th overall pick, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa was taken third overall by the Cowboys. Bosa was suspended for one game last season, most likely as a result of either a second failed drug test or too many missed classes, per the Columbus Dispatch. But Bosa’s draft stock was unaffected by the incident.
The timing of the release of the Tunsil video certainly played a role, but the video itself was taken two years ago, and Tunsil didn’t fail any drug tests leading up to the draft. So why did the Dolphins do the research on Tunsil while other teams simply passed?
We may never know. In the end, all Tunsil did was smoke some weed in college. As a result, someone decided to teach him a lesson at the worst possible time.
We ought to keep an eye on those who downplayed that.