A former college football star who may have lost millions of dollars in Thursday’s NFL draft because video of him smoking pot scared teams who might have selected him can try to tackle whoever posted the clip, but his best legal option might be to shut up and suit up, experts said.
Laremy Tunsil, an All-American offensive tackle from University of Mississippi, was judged by some scouts as the best player coming out of college. But his stock plummeted after video appeared on his own Twitter page showing him smoking what was apparently marijuana through a gas mask and bong. Tunsil, whose face was clearly revealed when he tore off the mask and exhaled, claims the video was several years old and posted by someone else.
“That video may have cost Laremy Tunsil $12 million,” said one sports agent who asked not to be named because he represents prospective NFL players.
It also could have cost him lucrative endorsement deals, the agent said.
Tunsil finally heard his name called at No. 13, when the Miami Dolphins chose him. Based on the projected slotting of rookie contracts, he’ll get a standard four-year contract at $12.5 million. Had he gone first, second or third, has was previously projected, the dollar figure would have doubled.
Speculation began immediately about who might have been behind the alleged hack. Tunsil’s stepfather is suing him, he recently fired a financial planner and he had even reportedly had run-ins with at least one teammate. But if Tunsil has any hopes of bringing someone to justice - either criminally or civilly - he should forget it, said Kent Ninomiya, a Round Rock, Texas, attorney who specializes in cases involving social media.
Catching the culprit could prove impossible, and even if he did, in order to sue, Tunsil would still have to prove the hack was the direct cause of his damages. That could mean proving each team that passed on him did so solely because of the video. Since not every team needed a left tackle and Tunsil wasn’t exactly clean as a whistle even before the video came out, that could be an uphill battle.
The 6-foot, 5-inch, 305-pound Tunsil was suspended for the first seven games of last season for taking money under the table, a charge he readily admitted to Thursday night. He allegedly attacked his stepfather during the offseason, leading to an ongoing lawsuit.
Finally, the likelihood that whomever was behind the alleged hack would be able to pay him the millions he may have lost is the biggest Hail Mary of all.
“He should just let it go,” Ninomiya said. “What’s done is done. He’s still going to be a very rich man. It’s a cautionary tale for everyone.”
One of the reasons unmasking the hacker is unrealistic, Ninomiya said, is that it was more than likely done by someone with physical access to Tunsil’s phone. All the electronic forensics in the world won’t help if no one comes forward to say they did it or saw who did. Finally, going after his tormentor would likely just keep the story alive, and drive even more people to watch the video.
"He needs to play football, and put this behind him," Ninomiya said.
One former NFL executive noted that teams do so much due diligence on players before investing in them that it is highly unlikely they didn’t already know about the video.
“Teams have a dozen scouts scour players for 7 months and we're supposed to believe a leaked video night of Draft changed everything?” tweeted Andrew Brandt. “Please.”
After the first round was concluded Thursday night, Tunsil seemed to be resigned to accepting his fate as a multi-millionaire on the cusp of a new job in South Florida.
"Like I said, I made a mistake, a huge mistake,” he told reporters. “Things happened, I can't control things. I'm just happy to be here, part of the Miami Dolphins organization. I'm blessed, man."