THE OAK DOORS were slightly ajar; the only thing seeping through was growing confusion. Laremy Tunsil stood inside a storage room in the back annex of Chicago's Auditorium Theatre. It was less than a half hour after the Mississippi tackle had been drafted No. 13 by the Dolphins last Thursday night, and two hours after his life had been rattled by a series of shocking posts on his social media accounts. As he straddled two realities—excitement and humiliation—Tunsil was summoned to this makeshift war room to strategize. How could he explain to the world what had just happened? There were at least three people with him: Amy Milam, who works with Tunsil's agent, Jimmy Sexton; a public relations assistant from the NFL; and a Dolphins employee. Tunsil also spoke to someone on the phone. The group spitballed ideas.
"You can just leave if you want," one of the advisers told him. Another said, "You can go back out there and just give really bland answers." Or, he was told, "you can no-comment everything."
The 21-year-old Tunsil considered his options for 12 minutes. Then he slipped on a teal Miami hat. His copper-studded loafers clicked on the cold floor. He swung open the doors of the storage room. "All right, where do I go next?" Tunsil said to a knot of reporters. "I'm ready."
THREE WEEKS AGO, before the Titans traded the top pick to the Rams, Tunsil was considered the surest selection at No. 1. Tennessee, under first-year general manager Jon Robinson, had prioritized protecting Marcus Mariota, and Tunsil, a lightfooted 6'5", 310-pound junior, was considered an elite left tackle. However, as the Eagles acquired the No. 2 choice and the draft buzz shifted to QBs Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, Tunsil's stock began to tumble. Multiple sources told The MMQB that his off-field behavior was worrisome, prompting some teams to remove him from their draft boards altogether.
Last season Tunsil was suspended seven games for receiving a variety of impermissible benefits, and at the combine in February, Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche said Tunsil had been with him when Nkemdiche fell out of a hotel window in Atlanta in December. (Nkemdiche was charged with possession of marijuana after the incident and the case is still pending.) Then, two days before the draft, Tunsil's stepfather, Lindsey Miller, filed a lawsuit against him for "intentional infliction of emotional distress," stemming from a fight the two had last June.
The stage was set for perhaps the most bizarre draft night in memory. Minutes before the start of the first round a video was posted to Tunsil's Twitter account showing him wearing a gas mask and smoking from a bong. Team executives around the NFL hurriedly reconfigured their draft boards as Tunsil's reps worked the phones to limit the damage, claiming that Tunsil's account had been hacked and that the video was years old.
The Ravens, at No. 6 and in the market for a tackle, chose Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley. Two spots later the Titans, who'd traded back into the top 10, took another tackle, Michigan State's Jack Conklin. Giants GM Jerry Reese, explaining tackle-needy New York's choice of cornerback Eli Apple at No. 10, said, "He was the highest player on our board without issues." But when the Dolphins saw Tunsil—the second-rated player on their board—available at 13, they couldn't resist. GM Chris Grier told reporters that he investigated the leaked video and knew it was about two years old. "We'd rather leave that to the kid to address, but we know the story behind it," Grier said. "We're comfortable with what it is."
Minutes after Tunsil and his entourage exchanged relieved hugs in the greenroom, word began to spread that he'd been hacked again. This time it was his Instagram account, on which were posted images of apparent text messages between Tunsil and Ole Miss assistant athletic director John Miller discussing arrangements for paying Tunsil's rent and his mother's $305 utility bill.
When Tunsil settled into the podium to speak to reporters, he managed a grin. "How are y'all doing?" he said. "Are y'all good?"
"What the heck happened with that video?" a reporter asked.
Tunsil, hands on the desk in front of him, shoulders relaxed, smiled again. "Somebody hacked into my account," he said.
As for the Instagram post, Tunsil was asked if there had been an exchange of money. He responded matter-of-factly: "I have to say yeah." A further question about whether he'd met with the NCAA was being posed when Milam appeared from behind a curtain, cutting the session short. (Ole Miss has promised to "aggressively investigate and fully cooperate with the NCAA and the SEC.")
While Tunsil is no longer subject to NCAA rules concerning impermissible payments, the episode may have cost him a fortune. According to Spotrac.com, Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick, is projected to receive a contract worth more than $25 million. The deal for the 13th choice will be roughly $12 million.
LAST THURSDAY morning Tunsil and nine other prospects joined commissioner Roger Goodell and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel on a visit to Ariel Community Academy, a middle school on the South Side. During these types of events it's easy to tell which athletes are present and which are preoccupied. Tunsil promptly went up to two 13-year-olds and introduced himself.
"Hey, little guy," he said to one. "What's up? What y'all working on?"
"Why did you want to be in the NFL?" one kid asked.
Tunsil crouched low and looked the kid in the eye. "It was my dream," he said. "And it's always important to follow your dream."
"Where do you want to be drafted?" another boy asked.
"I just want to go somewhere warm," Tunsil said with a laugh.
Some 12 hours later Tunsil's wish would be granted. It's safe to say it wasn't how he dreamed he'd get there.
AARON M. SPRECHER/AP
WHAT A DRAG Tunsil claimed that the bong video was two years old, an explanation Miami execs accepted before drafting him with the 13th pick.
TWITTER (WITH MASK)
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TOM LYNN (WITH HAT)
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