“ I couldn’t control the video getting out. Do I regret making the video? No, I don’t. Because I was having fun at that time. I had fun at Ole Miss.”

 

Sitting at a dais and fielding questions from reporters roughly 90 minutes after the drama first unfolded, and moments after the Dolphins mercifully rescued him from green room purgatory and he dapped up NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Tunsil looked like he had his shit together. He calmly, coolly, and honestly answered the inquiries. But internally he was a mess, and it was the last time he talked specifically about the incident on the record. 

While he sweated through his dress shirt as if he had just been practicing for hours outside in Florida’s humidity, reporters fired question after question at Tunsil. Who leaked the video? Was that really him? How could this happen? And what about the text messages that leaked on IG alleging he received improper benefits at Ole Miss? Did he violate NCAA rules? The session with reporters lasted less than four minutes, but to Tunsil it felt like a lifetime. 

“When is this shit going to be over with?” he remembers thinking. “I wish you would’ve seen under my suit I was sweating so bad. I really kept my poise, but inside I was really fucked up. I just wanted to get to a space with my family and friends and just unwind because that was a lot that night. That was a lot.” 

The night was supposed to be a triumph for a kid from Lake City, Florida, who was a five-star offensive line prospect despite the fact he preferred playing defense. After three decorated seasons at Ole Miss, Tunsil declared for the draft and at one point ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. projected him to be the No. 1 pick. 

Everything was cool in Chicago leading up to the start of the draft. Tunsil was living out a dream, feeling fresh, looking fly in a shawl collar jacket with a gold chain accentuating his fit, and laughing it up with his Ole Miss teammates Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdichee, who were also projected to be first-round selections. Sitting in the green room as the draft was about to kick off, all was right in the world. The only thing he was worried about was going to a cold-weather city. Then came the tap.  

Sexton told him not to panic. Tunsil immediately thought his social media accounts had been hacked because of the agent’s tone and because it happened to him before in middle school and high school. He expected it to be something minor and inconsequential. Sexton didn’t want Tunsil to react, since cameras were on him. He checked Twitter and saw the video—made a few years back on a random afternoon at Ole Miss when he was just doing college kid stuff in his dorm, comically taking a big rip from a gas mask bong—and he thought his dream of being a first-round pick was over. 

“My heart dropped,” says Tunsil. ”An unexplainable feeling. I didn’t know what to say, like I was speechless. In my mind, I’m like, ‘Oh, please, don’t let this mess up my night. Please don’t let me drop to the second-round because I’mma be going crazy.’”

Chaos ensued.

Laremy Tunsil Roger Goodell NFL Draft 2016
Tunsil’s drop in the draft cost him an estimated $7-$12 million. Image via Getty/Jon Durr

“Not to speak in hyperbole, but you can make a case that it was the most dramatic moment in draft day history,” says ESPN’s Jeff Darlington, who was covering the draft from Philadelphia that year. “I understand that maybe people don’t relate to Laremy Tunsil because he’s a tackle and we think more about Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning or Brady Quinn’s slide or Aaron Rodgers’ slide. But what happened to Laremy Tunsil, it wasn’t about football.” 

While NFL teams are incredibly prepared for multiple situations come draft day, this was different. Everyone—reporters, networks, NFL front office people—scrambled for intel. Sexton, a power agent in the professional and college ranks, worked the phones as the Chargers took Joey Bosa at No. 3, the Cowboys selected Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4, and the Jaguars drafted Jalen Ramsey at No. 5.

But before the Jags made their pick, Tunsil thought the 49ers could trade up to the fifth slot to grab him. That’s when Sexton handed Tunsil his phone. It was San Francisco. Tunsil believed he was talking to new 49ers head coach Chip Kelly because “Jimmy told me from his mouth it was Chip Kelly.”  

Sexton, who stopped working with Tunsil in 2020, did not return multiple emails seeking comment for this story. A source close to Kelly, now at UCLA, denies a conversation between the coach and Tunsil took place. Sources who were present in the 49ers’ draft day war room that night tell Complex Sports Kelly never called Tunsil because he didn’t have personnel power and wouldn’t have been tasked with talking to draft picks, nor do they recall who made it. 

A member of the 49ers asked Tunsil: “Did you post that on your Instagram and Twitter?” He says he told the truth: yes, it was him, somebody hacked his accounts, he made a mistake in college, he was young, he wasn’t thinking it would come back to hurt him, and he had no idea why he hadn’t deleted the video. The conversation continued briefly and then Tunsil says there was a pause for two minutes—an incredible amount of time to remain silent on the phone—until he was told, “Well, I hope this doesn’t mess up your night,” and the call ended. 

 

“When that video came out that actually messed me up internally, mentally. Whoever put that video out tarnished my name, wanted to bash me. I just wanted to keep it inside and work on myself mentally and when the time was right I was going to talk about it.”

 

The sixth pick belonged to the Ravens, the team Tunsil thought he was destined to end up with entering the draft after Tennessee—who needed an offensive lineman—traded out of the No. 1 spot weeks before. There were no calls, just silence as Baltimore chose tackle Ronnie Stanley. That’s when Tunsil really knew things were bad. The Titans were the next logical landing spot at No. 8, but they took Jack Conklin. Tunsil, who says no team asked him about past drug use leading up to the draft, thought the Lions might trade up to nab him since he had a good meeting with them, but Detroit wasn’t interested. Hugh Freeze, Tunsil’s coach at Ole Miss, tried to keep his former player calm during the craziness. 

“I remember vividly Laremy was sweating and certainly there was a lot of uncertainty as his name began to fall down the draft board,” says Freeze. “I just remember having this conversation with him saying, ‘Man, the people that know you love you and that’s not going to change. And you’re not defined by which slot you go in the draft, and remember this is called draft night, not draft career.’ I tried to keep harping on him that this one night does not make you or define you, and certainly you’ll get through it.”

The next spot that made sense was New Orleans at No. 12. Tunsil says the Saints called up Sexton and asked if Tunsil would be cool with playing a position other than left tackle since it wasn’t a need for them. “I’ll do it. Whatever it takes. Just let me get drafted,” Tunsil says he told Sexton. New Orleans chose linebacker Sheldon Rankins. Then came Miami at No. 13. 

Like every other team, the Dolphins had done their due diligence on Tunsil. Mike Tannenbaum, who was Miami’s executive vice president of football operations at the time, says the Dolphins had Tunsil as the top player on their board and knew the kind of person he was, but never expected he’d be available when they were on the clock.   

“You spend nine months for those situations,” says Tannenbaum, now with ESPN. “You have to be prepared for the unexpected. We just pulled out the reports, talked it through, pulled the trigger, and felt really good about it. And, again, it has to do with nine months worth of work.”

Adam Gase, who was hired as Dolphins head coach in January of that year and given full control over the 53-man roster, was hyped to get Tunsil. He didn’t care that he smoked weed, considering so many players did, too. After making sure owner Stephen M. Ross was onboard with the pick, Gase made the call. He told Tunsil he was going to draft the lineman still squirming in the green room. “We’ll take you right now. We don’t care about the gas mask,” a relieved Tunsil remembers Gase telling him.

“What always bothered me was, how could somebody do that to that guy?” says Gase, who spent three seasons as Miami’s head coach. “He’s legitimately a really, really good dude. Super laid back. For somebody to do something that harmful and hurtful to him, I was floored by it.”