Laremy Tunsil and the morality police
The NFL has the vapors over a college kid and a bong
This is what it looks like when the NFL morality police smell blood.
“Student-athlete” Laremy Tunsil asked athletic officials at the University of Mississippi for help paying his rent and to cover his mother’s $305 utility bill. Just for a sense of scale, the Ole Miss football program sold a record $17.3 million in tickets last season and netted an additional $31.5 million in licensing fees.
Tunsil, the best offensive tackle in the draft, also tried on an odd-looking gas-mask bong two years ago and inhaled marijuana, which many college kids are wont to do.
The video of the bong and texts of his request to Ole Miss officials were released minutes before the draft began (by a hateful soul who hacked his social-media accounts). A number of NFL teams, which have in the past made room on their rosters for perpetrators of domestic violence and far worse social ills than toking, proceeded to treat Tunsil like the Zika virus.
His free fall on the draft board, where he was once thought to be a potential No. 1 pick and no worse than No. 6, ended when the Miami Dolphins plucked him at No. 13. Estimates say he lost between $8 million and $10 million.
Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner who needs the league’s players — about 70 percent of whom, like Tunsil, are African-American — to create the game his $9 billion corporate colossus sells, said he thought Tunsil’s downward spiral was “all part of what the makes the draft so exciting.”
Think on that for a moment. This is one of about 1,200 black players in the 1,700-player NFL, with the same dreams of so many children who suit up from Pop Warner on, hoping against hope they can make their family’s life better. And the fact that he’s losing perhaps $10 million was deemed “exciting.”
And the player is supposed to be the guy with the character issue.
How Tunsil became a pawn in Goodell’s post-Ray Rice warped perception game, in which you can misbehave all you want as long as the cameras aren’t rolling, stands as an indictment of a league more obsessed with its image than with what’s right.
“The league’s thought was, ‘It’s two games if he punched a woman in the face and we know about it,’ ” said George Atallah, the assistant executive director of external affairs for the NFL Players Association. “But it’s an indefinite suspension if there is actually video of him punching a woman in the face. How does that make sense?
There’s no doubt the video is startling. That gas-mask bong looked like it could have been borrowed from the set of Mad Max: Fury Road.
But here’s the thing: NFL teams knew of the video. It was shopped around long before the draft and thought to be of such pedestrian news value that even Deadspin passed on buying it.
Nearly three weeks later, that video of a college kid getting high on marijuana — a drug whose medicinal, pain-relieving qualities has led to its legalization in 23 states and the District of Columbia — hasn’t produced any leaguewide re-evaluation of why a kid whose privacy was violated had to suffer such a huge financial loss.
No, the takeaway is: He should have been more social-media savvy. That’s actually what teams are telling their players. Via Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, who documented the league’s sudden panic over the incident: “One AFC coach played the Tunsil video for members of his defense and said, ‘Don’t let this be you.’ ”
It’s as if someone who’s been carjacked is told how stupid he was not to have locked his vehicle — because, well, he was just asking to be robbed. Somehow, the victim has morphed into the perpetrator.
I asked Eric Winston, the NFLPA president and 10-year offensive line veteran now with the Cincinnati Bengals, why he went off on Goodell a day after the draft on his Twitter account. He said simply, “because what he said wasn’t right.”
“It was such a bright light on a specific issue, where the hypocrisy of this idea of an NFL family, you know, ‘We’re all family,’ just came to the forefront,” Winston said. “You’d never say about a family member, ‘Oh, wow, his worst time — that was really fun to watch.’ ”
“From afar you think the league looks out for you, the league is great. You don’t realize until you get put in that position that the league doesn’t give an F about what’s going on. All they care about is the ratings.
“The older guys in the locker room just shake their heads,” he added. “The 10-plus-year guys looked at each other and said, ‘Can you imagine if our phones had cameras in college? We would have never been drafted.’ ”
There are no NFL morality clauses, of course, for general managers and owners.
“Jim Irsay is a billionaire,” Brian Mitchell, the former kick return great who co-hosts a radio show and his own TV show in Washington, began. “Jim Irsay was also on drugs … As soon as he got busted, everyone in the media chimed in with one thought: He needs help.”
(Irsay was suspended for six games and fined $500,000 in 2014 after pleading guilty to driving under the influence of the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone.)
“When Laremy Tunsil is shown to be doing something dumb at 19 or 20 years old, a kid who probably doesn’t have the money, probably grew up in the ’hood, that kid is reprimanded and they want to investigate him,” Mitchell said.
I asked Winston why, except for free agent quarterback Johnny Manziel, who is white, character questions always come up with so many black players at draft time.
Here’s the real head-shaking double standard: Neither the Tampa Bay Buccaneers nor the Seattle Seahawks dug deep into Jameis Winston’s rape allegations or Frank Clark’s domestic violence history a year ago when Winston was taken in the first round and Clark in the second. The Baltimore Ravens, who made Janay Rice sit on a podium with her husband and own up to her “role” in being knocked unconscious in an elevator, passed on Tunsil after they saw the video. So did the New York Giants, who needed an offensive lineman, and the Dallas Cowboys, who had no problem accommodating Greg Hardy last season despite a damning police report and photos of what he did to his former girlfriend.
In a league where retired NFL players misuse opioid painkillers at rates four times higher than the general population, where a concussion epidemic is scaring moms from signing their boys up to play, where violence against women is a major issue, Laremy Tunsil was labeled a bad guy because he smoked marijuana and wasn’t smart enough to guard his passwords better.
When he finally heard his name called after two agonizing hours and walked across the stage to meet the commissioner, we all witnessed the most disingenuous show of affection in American sport: Goodell’s pull-in bro hug.
It doesn’t connote family or welcome, a rite of passage for college players achieving their dream. It’s for the cameras. It’s all for the cameras.
An earlier version of this story mistakenly said Frank Clark was drafted in the first round. He was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round.