What was supposed to be the climactic celebration for Ole Miss' legendary 2013 signing class devolved into a stomach-turning, real-time nightmare during the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night. Moments before commissioner Roger Goodell took to the podium, social media hackers launched a malicious and cruelly-timed attack on star offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, releasing disparaging content on his Twitter and Instagram accounts that tanked his draft stock and, eventually, led to what appeared to be a live admission that he accepted money from an Ole Miss athletics staffer.
Here's what happened.
Someone hacked Tunsil's Twitter and sent out a video of him smoking.
Roughly 10 minutes before the Rams went on the clock with the first pick, this video was sent from Tunsil's own verified account.
The video—and soon, the entire account—was quickly deleted, but the damage had been done. Tunsil, who went into the night expected to go as high as No. 3 to the Chargers, plummeted to No. 13 before the Dolphins mercifully stopped the fall. During the cringe-worthy slide, a shaken Tunsil could be seen in the green room being consoled by family members and head coach Hugh Freeze.
Tunsil's camp quickly declared that the account had been hacked and insisted that the video, which shows him smoking out of a gas mask bong, were several years old.
This shouldn't shock anyone but the Tunsil camp is telling teams that the step dad leaked the video of him from a few years ago.— Ian Fitzsimmons (@Ianfitzespn) April 29, 2016
That stepdad, of course, is the same one that plunged Tunsil into an NCAA investigation last summer by going to the media with claims that his star stepson had engaged in illegal contact with pro agents. That same stepdad filed a lawsuit against Tunsil earlier this week.
Then Tunsil's Instagram was hacked.
With Tunsil finally off the board, the worst of it seemed to be over. But shortly after his selection, more inflammatory material was released via his Instagram account. Out came two screenshots of what appeared to be a conversation in which Tunsil is requesting rent money from Ole Miss Assistant Athletic Director John Miller.
"Barney" is presumably Barney Farrar, Ole Miss' assistant athletics director for high school and junior college relations.
Those images themselves aren't very incriminating--anyone with basic Photoshop skills could make that conversation say anything they wanted, and whoever released it was clearly doing so with the purpose of disparaging Tunsil. But when asked about it during a post-draft press conference, Tunsil seemingly confirmed that he indeed accepted money from Ole Miss coaches.
Tunsil, who's understandably flustered, stumbled through his responses, which makes it difficult to discern exactly what he's admitting.
At the :45 second mark, a reporter asks "Are those conversations you had with John Miller, with Hugh Freeze?"
Tunsil responds, "Right. Like I said, I made a mistake, a huge mistake."
At the 2:05 mark, a reporter asks, "So was there an exchange of money between you and your coach?"
Tunsil's reply: "Nah, I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't say all that."
Thirty seconds later, what appears to be the same reporter says, "So not only did someone hack your account, but they doctored those messages?"
Tunsil says, "Exactly. Right." But when the question is clarified, Tunsil responds, "Hold up, the messages you talkin about from... Oh, no. Those true. Like I said, I made a mistake of that happening."
"So was there an exchange between you and your coach for money?" another reporter asks.
"I'd have to say yea," Tunsil responds.
UPDATE: We talked to a PR specialist who explained that the strategies behind a hasty crisis communications incident could very well have led Tunsil to say something he didn't mean.