Thursday’s draft was supposed to mark a new beginning for Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss’ former crown jewel and one of the most highly touted players of the 2016 NFL Draft. He was supposed to have been selected in the top five. He was supposed to have been able to finally reach toward that long-awaited paycheck, marking his arrival on the professional — and paid — football scene.
Instead, on Thursday night, among much hullabaloo, Tunsil was dragged back into the sticky web that is the NCAA and its murky, malleable compensatory and disciplinary system.
Just minutes before Tunsil was slated to be drafted, his phone and social media accounts were, reportedly, hacked. A damning video featuring him taking a hit from a gas-masked bong was posted. And then so too was a text conversation April 2015, supposedly exchanged between him and assistant athletic director for football operations John Miller, in which the two discuss Ole Miss paying his mother’s electricity and water bills.
Eventually last night, Tunsil was snatched up by the Miami Dolphins, after falling to the 13th pick. And at the ensuing press conference, when asked directly whether he took money from his alma mater, he equivocated. First, he responded, “Nah, I wouldn’t say that.” Then, he admitted, “I’d have to say yeah.”
As you can imagine, he was quickly ushered off stage after that bit of honesty.
Now, Tunsil is familiar with the NCAA’s notorious — if arbitrary — disciplinary hellhole. He was benched for the first seven games of last season for receiving “impermissible benefits” in the form of an airline ticket and a down payment on a used vehicle, among other boons.
So the pummeling that this offensive tackle has received on social media over the past day for those gas bills texts is anything but surprising.
But it’s also reductive and both misses and skews the bigger picture.
This is not to say that we should defend rule-breaking. This is not to say that we should deny Tunsil’s less than professional behavior. This is to say, however, that we should be open to and, in fact, welcome a dialogue that delves into why Tunsil was forced to turn to his coaching staff to assist his mother — a discussion that dives into what the NCAA can do to ensure that these young, green student-athletes don’t have to worry about their families’ hot water shutting off while they themselves are celebrated and set on the highest of pedestals on SEC campuses around the nation.
There’s no easy answer here, and there won’t be until there’s a deep-rooted, systemic change in the how the NCAA views the men and women that earn the association its billions of dollars.
So until then, this is just your latest reminder that we shouldn’t be quite so quick to damn the Laremy Tunsils of the world for asking for $305 to help their parents have some electricity.