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A PR expert explains why you should take Laremy Tunsil's admission with a grain of salt

Tunsil's contradictory NFL Draft press conference ended with an admission that he accepted money from his coaches while at Ole Miss. But was he just falling back on his PR training in a moment of confusion?

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Let me begin this post by saying it is not my intention to dismiss the fact that Laremy Tunsil told reporters on Thursday night that conversations leaked via his Instagram account were real and that he indeed accepted money from his Ole Miss coaches. It is my personal opinion that he understood the questions and answered honestly.

But it's also clear to anyone who watched that cringeworthy press conference that Tunsil, who was blindsided by a malicious social media hack just minutes before the NFL Draft, was shaken and struggling to maintain a consistent narrative amid the barrage of rapid-fire questions. The video of him smoking from a gas mask bong had just dragged him down to the 13th pick; it had been all of 10 minutes since he'd learned (during a live radio interview, no less) that his hacked Instagram account had published screen shots of an alleged text conversation in which he asks an Ole Miss staffer for rent money.

The entire presser lasted just three and a half minutes before an NFL rep whisked him away from the microphones.

Tunsil's answers to the deluge of queries are contradictory.

"So was there an exchange of money between you and your coach?" asks a reporter.

"Nah, I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't say all that," Tunsil replies.

"So not only did someone hack your account, but they doctored those messages?" the same reporter asks 30 seconds later.

"Exactly. Right," Tunsil says. Moments later: "Hold up, the messages you talking 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?"

"I'd have to say yea," Tunsil responds.

We discussed the press conference with a PR specialist.

This person, who wishes to remain anonymous, has worked in public relations their entire career and is trained in crises communications. They are in no way associated with Tunsil or Ole Miss.

Here is their take on Tunsil's admission:

First, with any press conference I sit down with my spokesperson and rehearse every possible answer to every potentially negative question a reporter may ask. The PR guy literally role-plays a reporter, asking tough questions in an aggressive and then deceptive tone, to see how their spokesman handles it. We make our guy sweat, stumble and see how he thinks on his feet, and then we pound the right answers over and over again. Think of it like flash cards the morning before your kid's math test—cramming at the last minute; memorizing answers without applying a conscious thought process. This is why so many politicians and CEOs who are over-coached come across like mindless robots at press events—in a sense their minds are on auto-pilot. This rehearsal usually takes an hour or more—Jimmy and the rest of Tunsil's handlers had to compress this to a crash course thanks to the timing of the Twitter/gas mask hack.

Second, the Instagram hack hit after Tunsil was selected and was backstage; meeting the Dolphin execs, talking to reporters, hugging family and friends. I genuinely don't see how he could have known the details of the "Wave 2" hack prior to going into that press conference. His mind was firmly on gas masks, figuring out who hacked him, lost signing bonuses and trying to turn a bad night into a moral victory.

The crash course press rehearsal would have gone something like this: "Laremy, the right thing to do right now is own your mistake. Don't blame the hacker. Don't deny it was you—they've got you on video. Man up and quickly pivot the conversation back to the draft and how proud you are to be selected by the Dolphins. The public is willing to forgive mistakes—it's just pot." Then you give your guy one talking point, and you say, "If you get in a jam out there, go to your repeat phrase." That phrase should have been something like, "I made a mistake two years ago. I accept responsibility but that's not who I am today. I'm just damn proud to be a Miami Dolphin."

He entered the press room anticipating questions about the pot video. Ready to own his mistake and move on. Probably aware that something also happened to his Instagram account but not having time to see or understand what was there. It's a pressure-packed and very lonely situation. The panicked look in Laremy's eyes—I've seen it before from highly-educated and well-polished executives who melted when the tone and questions took a turn you didn't prepare for. We call it being "in the grip." As in "Oh shit, he's in the grip—let's shut this thing down." I can only imagine what a kid like Tunsil was feeling. The brain is scrambling for the right flash card but it isn't there. You remember the repeat phrase and your handler's advice: "own the mistake and pivot to the positive."

"Did you receive money from coaches?" First he tried to duck it, but the question came again. You saw his mind literally reset, "oh, you mean the Instagram thing? Yeah." "So are you saying you did take money from the coaches?"

He followed his coaching beautifully and automatically gave an affirmative answer, said it was a mistake from the past then pivoted to how damn proud he was to be a Dolphin. Even after being ushered offstage, it's entirely possible he had no idea what he said or what he confirmed. Again, this is one possible scenario, but based on my experience it's entirely plausible. I've seen it before and it looked a lot like last night.

It should be noted that Tunsil was much more prepared and composed during his welcome-to-Miami presser on Friday, in which he batted away questions about his past at every turn. "I'm just here to talk about the Miami Dolphins."

In the end, the Thursday night admission probably doesn't mean much anyway. The Dolphins and the rest of the NFL couldn't care less if Tunsil took money while in college. And while the sound clip is damning evidence against Ole Miss in the court of public opinion, it's not admissible in an NCAA investigation. For Tunsil's admission to be used against Ole Miss, Tunsil would have to repeat it to an NCAA investigator. Now that Tunsil is no longer an amateur athlete, he can kindly tell the NCAA to kiss his ass.