CHICAGO — It’s turning out to be a very expensive bong hit — and a harsh reminder of the perils of social media — for Laremy Tunsil.
The University of Mississippi offensive tackle — an early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft — slipped to No. 13 after a video emerged of him smoking marijuana through a gas mask.
The clip was posted on Tunsil’s Twitter account, which he closed shortly afterward. But by then, the video had already gone viral. Tunsil said his account was hacked.
“Man, it was a mistake. It happened years ago,” Tunsil told Deion Sanders on the NFL Network shortly after the Miami Dolphins chose him. “Someone had my Twitter account and that’s how it got on there.”
To make matters worse, Tunsil’s Instagram account was also apparently hacked, this time after the draft, when a screen shot was posted of an alleged exchange between the player and a member of the Ole Miss athletics department regarding payment of his mother’s $305 utility bill.
“I thought we all agreed on an amt — that number keeps changing,” wrote the administrator. “Someone needs to explain the cost — I have no way of handling surprise amounts.”
After the draft, Tunsil told reporters he found out about the Instagram post five minutes earlier during a television interview. He acknowledged he had been paid while playing at Ole Miss — a major NCAA violation.
“I made a mistake. That happened,” he said.
When asked whether any coaches paid him, Tunsil said, “I’d have to say, yeah.”
Ole Miss released a statement saying it is aware of the reports.
“Like we do whenever an allegation is brought to our attention or a potential violation is self-discovered, we will aggressively investigate and fully cooperate with the NCAA and the SEC,” the statement said.
The university did not address the identity of the person Tunsil was interacting with in the Instagram post.
The comments will likely provoke another NCAA investigation into Ole Miss athletics, and the program may face harsh penalties. When reached by CNN, the NCAA said it cannot comment on current, pending or potential investigations.
No stranger to controversy
Tunsil is no stranger to controversy, having been suspended in 2015 for seven games in his third and most recent season at Ole Miss after an NCAA investigation found he received improper benefits — including three loaner vehicles; a four-month, interest-free loan of $3,000 to make a down payment on a car; and a free airplane ticket purchased by the friend of a teammate.
After his suspension, Tunsil apologized and called the situation a “learning experience.”
“I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made and want to thank everyone for their continued support,” he said in a written statement. “I want to apologize to my teammates, coaches and the entire Ole Miss family for how my choices affected our program.”
After many seasons lavishing in the cellar of the hyper-competitive SEC, Ole Miss enjoyed a resurgence last season, ranking as high as No. 3 in the AP poll and being featured on a Sports Illustrated cover story after defeating Alabama.
Listed at 6 feet 5 inches and 310 pounds, Tunsil plays the critical left tackle position, which typically protects a quarterback’s blind side. ESPN’s pre-draft analysis projected he would be the third pick in the draft.
The downward shift of 10 spots has likely cost the player millions in potential salary as NFL rookies are paid on a loose sliding scale according to their selection in the draft. Each first-round pick in 2015 committed to four-year deals with signing bonuses. The difference in pay between the No. 3 pick and No. 13 pick was $12.11 million in salary and another $8.75 million in a signing bonus, according to an NFL chart showing salary and bonus amounts for players chosen in the 2015 draft.
Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said he was comfortable taking Tunsil with the team’s first-round pick and was surprised it even had a shot, given its middle-of-the-pack ranking.
“This is a guy who was No. 2 ranked on our board. We did not expect him to be there,” Grier told reporters, adding that the pot-smoking clip did not bother him.
“The video is 2 years old. So from all the information we have, we are comfortable with it.”
Stepfather denies involvement in hacking
The hacking isn’t the only problem that Tunsil has faced this week. There also is pending litigation against him.
Tunsil’s stepfather, Lindsay Miller, has sued Tunsil over domestic violence allegations and defamation, accusing the athlete of attacking him in June. His lawsuit was filed Tuesday — two day before the NFL draft — in Lafayette County, Mississippi, Circuit Court.
According to the suit, Miller is married to Desiree Polingo, Tunsil’s mother. The couple — now estranged, the lawsuit says — got into an argument, and things got heated.
The suit describes Miller as a disabled former petty officer in the U.S. Navy but does not characterize his disability.
Following the conversation, Polingo walked out of the house. Tunsil, the lawsuit alleges, “rushed inside” and “violently attacked” Miller. The suit alleges Tunsil “pounded the disabled American veteran severely, striking him with his fists multiple times.”
Both parties pressed criminal charges with local authorities, according to the suit. Eventually, all criminal charges were dropped, the suit said.
Tunsil’s attorney, Steve Farese, told CNN on Friday the lawsuit was “frivolous.”
“This unsavory attempt to obtain money from a talented young man is a sad example of the times,” Farese said. “The timing of this suit, on the eve of the NFL draft, speaks volumes as to Mr. Miller’s motives.”
In an email to CNN on Friday, Miller’s attorney, Matt Wilson, denied “any involvement whatsoever” in the hacking of Tunsil’s social media accounts.
“When he learned last night that Mr. Tunsil’s accounts had been hacked, he was surprised that the posted content even existed,” Wilson said. “He condemns the unlawful hacking of Mr. Tunsil’s social media accounts and hopes that whoever is responsible is brought to justice quickly.”
Tunsil’s attorney called the hacking a “sad saga.”
“I understand he’s a high-profile public figure,” Farese said. “He’s still a human being. It was obvious he was getting bushwhacked last night.”
Tunsil did not point the finger at anyone.
“I don’t know who did it,” he said. “I don’t know what happened.”