Laremy Tunsil’s calling. You pick up and ask how he’s doing. “Solid,” he warmly responds in a voice that almost makes him sound like the north Florida version of Freddie Gibbs.
Solid, according to the best left tackle in football, means something different than what it says in the dictionary. To Tunsil, solid means he’s chilling, that he’s running around with no complaints. Essentially, life is good. It’s a term he only recently adopted, an upgrade over his former favorite response—“straight”—which he’d break out whenever someone asked him for a status update.
If you asked Tunsil how he was doing on the biggest, most important night of his life, which was supposed to be a celebration of his talents and his coronation as the cornerstone of an NFL franchise, he would’ve lied to you. He would’ve said he was straight. Because that’s the kind of person he is, preferring not to project his problems and feelings onto others. But the reality is that evening, with the whole world laughing at him and NFL teams scrambling to figure out what the hell was really going on with one of the top prospects in the draft, Tunsil tried to suppress every awful emotion coursing through his body as he watched the unimaginable unfold. When it was time to explain how one of the most insane, unfair ordeals in NFL Draft history happened, impossibly, he looked poised, polished, and composed. He was anything but.
“I was not poised. I was fucked up,” says Tunsil.
Players falling in the NFL Draft is a tradition unlike any other, and there have been some famous ones over the years, from Aaron Rodgers to Brady Quinn to Warren Sapp. But none of ’em—and I mean none of ’em—compare to what Tunsil went through on April 28, 2016. Sitting in the green room at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, moments before he was about to realize his dream as a top selection in the draft, a nightmare crashed the party. He felt a tap on his shoulder. “Listen, don’t panic,” his agent quietly told him. “Just check your Instagram and Twitter.”
“Probably one of the worst feelings I ever experienced in my life,” says Tunsil. “I don’t wish that situation, that experience on nobody else.”
Almost six years and a whole lot of determination, dedication, and reflection later, Laremy Tunsil is finally ready to talk about the incident—the mistake—that caused him to fall to the Dolphins at No. 13 when he should’ve been selected way earlier. Having stayed silent about it for all this time, and sick of the stigma attached to him as the gas mask guy, Tunsil long ago put the jarring incident in his rear-view mirror—and his standing in the game certainly shows it.
But getting to the point where he was comfortable talking—besides with friends, family, and trusted teammates—about the night pictures and video of him smoking marijuana out of a gas mask bong stained his reputation, caused his draft stock to nosedive, and robbed him of millions was a process. A natural introvert who prefers to keep his head down and just take care of business, Tunsil, like all the best blockers, is now out in front of the narrative. Confident in his abilities on the field and content in his evolution off of it, he’s taking a few beats to appreciate how far he’s come from one of the worst introductions in NFL history.
“I don’t want the past to have any control over me,” says Tunsil. “I’m in a better place, I’m in a better mindset, and, bro, I’m really done with that. And that’s why I’m talking about the situation, because clearly I’m over that.”