Monday, May 30, 2016

A Camera’s Always Rolling

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

There is no precedent for the start of Laremy Tunsil’s professional football career.  Tunsil, the 6’5”, 310-lb offensive tackle from the University of Mississippi was a consensus top-five selection entering this spring’s NFL Draft.  Even after the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles made trades to secure the two top overall picks – and quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively – Tunsil’s wait to hear his name called and realize his NFL dream would be brief.

But before Tunsil had a chance to don an NFL team cap and hug Commissioner Roger Goodell, his life was sabotaged.  As the draft began, Tunsil’s hacked twitter account promulgated a video depicting a young man resembling Tunsil smoking marijuana while wearing a smoke-filled gas mask.  It looked like Cheech and Chong movie clip.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the work of famous stoners; it was Tunsil, the blue chip prospect, goofing off amidst a weed-cloud.  Terrible look.  Horrible timing. 

With no context to the imagery and no time for research, the reaction by NFL executives was predictable and understandable: Tunsil plummeted to the Miami Dolphins at the thirteenth overall pick.  Frankly, only his prodigious talent prevented a greater fall.  Still, Tunsil’s tumble down the draft board cost him millions and was indicative of ultra-brand-conscious NFL front offices that would rather secure a low-drama/high character contributor than gamble on a potential All-Pro who once toked on a joint while wearing a gas mask.   

Was it fair?  Well, fair doesn’t matter in the high-stakes game of the NFL Draft.  It is a weekend where the course of franchises, the careers of executives and coaches and millions of dollars are on the line.  The NFL Draft builds or ruins reputations – period.  That said, put yourself in the position of NFL wonks: Would you hire a guy who you just saw smoking pot?  The answer is probably not.  Maybe “h-ll no.”  At pick 13, Miami could justify taking Tunsil because of the value.  But make no mistake about it, they invited a circus to South Florida for training camp this summer.  Take a seat.  Enjoy the show.

And then there’s the kid, Laremy Tunsil.  Not the athlete clad in a helmet and shoulder pads.  Not the massive human capable of physical domination on the gridiron.  Laremy Tunsil, the person.  Laremy Tunsil, the 21-year-old from Lake City, Florida.  He made a bad decision in his past to smoke marijuana.  He compounded the mistake by letting someone record it.  For that, what should have been the best night of his life was ruined and his professional reputation was eviscerated.  And for what?  For using a drug that is increasingly legal at the state level?  A drug that many former NFL players are advocating for pain management?  A drug that several current NFL players – including Le’Veon Bell, Trent Williams and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller - have used in the past and still scored huge contracts?

Is it fair, then, that Tunsil became the draft’s tragic hero? 

Absolutely not.  Tunsil wasn’t hitting a woman, driving drunk or brandishing a gun in the video.  He was sitting on a coach smoking pot.  Poor decision?  Without a doubt.  But whom among us hasn’t made a comparably dubious choice?  Not many, if we’re being honest.  Even our last three presidents did a little marijuana (Obama, Clinton) or drank too much at times (Bush).  That doesn’t excuse Tunsil, but it does make the penance he’s paying seem egregious. 

Three merciful weeks have passed since Tunsil’s public humiliation.  He’s done well to own his mistake and has begun to move forward with his career.  I hope he succeeds; regardless, he’ll likely never outrun the draft night controversy.  Maybe that’s his cross to bear for all of us sinners (as The Big Lebowski’s narrator might say).  In a world filled with smartphones and social media accounts, Tunsil-gate shouldn’t be forgotten - not by those job shopping, not by kids navigating adolescence, not by anyone who values their reputation.  Technology has created an unforgiving environment where revenge or just innocent indiscretion can cause anyone’s mistakes to be broadcast for a lifetime.  The unfortunate proof is Laremy Tunsil.

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