We are programmed to root for quarterbacks, receivers and running backs, the guys who score the points. Left tackles? When's the last time someone rooted for one of those?
Michael Oher out of Ole Miss, maybe, because he had a made-for-Hollywood story that touched 'em all. But now here comes Laremy Tunsil out of the same school, ironically blasted from the blind side. What happened to him Thursday night shouldn't happen to anyone, never mind a 21-year-old kid about to celebrate the night of his young life.
How would you feel if you were minutes from delivering a valedictory speech at your college graduation when a prankster posted a video on some oversized screen showing you celebrating a night of underage drinking by running naked around campus before urinating on the chancellor's car?
That's what happened to Tunsil at the NFL draft, times 50. Just as he was about to settle into the night, his night, someone used his Twitter account to share what appeared to be scenes borrowed from an old "Breaking Bad" shoot gone wrong. A young man in a black gas mask was shown enjoying an attached bong, and after the Miami Dolphins stepped in to cut off his plunge with pick No. 13, Tunsil admitted he was indeed the young man in question.
Tunsil maintained that his account was hacked, and this was one time you could certainly take a sports star or celebrity at his or her word on that. He also swore his Instagram was hacked, another credible claim given that this account showed Tunsil's apparent text messages to an Ole Miss football staffer asking for money to cover his rent and his mother's electric bill.
At his news conference in Chicago, Tunsil was asked whether he had taken money from a coach. "I'd have to say yeah," he answered.
And this is the point where we are supposed to act outraged that a major college football player had his hand out, the same player who had been suspended for seven games by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits that included free loaner cars, a plane ticket, a couple of nights of lodging and an interest-free loan. These cases always remind of something John Thompson, the great Georgetown basketball coach, once told me of the unpaid labor force that keeps the multibillion-dollar industry churning: "Just because you're breaking NCAA rules doesn't mean you're doing something morally wrong."
Ole Miss could be in big trouble over this; the NCAA was already on its case for other alleged violations, and the school issued a statement promising an aggressive investigation into the Instagram disclosure and Tunsil's admission. But the Rebels weren't the lead story Thursday night, even as their coach, Hugh Freeze, was seen reassuring his tackle over the video fallout before those more damning (to the program) text messages popped up on Instagram.
Tunsil's developing Greek tragedy was the more compelling human drama, and promised to rank with Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers and Randy Moss among the epic draft plunges of the past. Of course, some of the same NFL decision-makers who were running 4.3 40-yard dashes to their draft boards to remove Tunsil's name were probably, you know, quite familiar with recreational pot use in college. But that use wasn't caught on camera and broadcast worldwide on the internet.
So the prospect who was once considered the likely No. 1 pick in the draft became the prospect teams were afraid to touch. Baltimore took another tackle at No. 6 (Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame), and the Titans took another one at No. 8 (Jack Conklin of Michigan State). The Giants could've used their 10th pick to better protect their aging franchise quarterback, Eli Manning, but opted instead for a second Eli, Apple, a cornerback from Ohio State.
"He was the highest-graded player on our board," said Giants general manager Jerry Reese, "beyond the guys with issues."
Reese wouldn't name names, and he didn't need to. One of his front-office aides, Marc Ross, included in Apple's strengths the fact that he is "clean off the field." It's a good thing that character matters in some corners of the NFL, but it's too early to say that Tunsil is an athlete with any character flaws that could imperil his career.
"I do not have a drug problem," Tunsil said. "You can check all my college tests. I've never failed one."
I believe him, too. Though he had little choice but to concede he was the figure in the bong video, Tunsil didn't have to admit that those text messages spoke of a real financial exchange between big-time player and big-time program. Under the bright lights, with the world watching him field questions he never expected to field, Tunsil came clean about the pot and the cash. So I'm guessing he told the truth about his drug history, as well.
"I'm a good person," he said.
And let's not forget that he's a victim of a sinister real-time plot that cost him millions. Tunsil said he has no idea who betrayed him or how the hacking went down. He has been engaged in a legal dispute with his stepfather, Lindsey Miller, who was quoted by TMZ denying any role in the incident.
"We know the story behind it," said Dolphins general manager Chris Grier, who said the bong video is 2 years old. Grier added that the team is comfortable with that backstory, and with the notion that Tunsil dearly loves the game he was just hired to play.
"This just gives me a chip on my shoulder when I get to the league," the tackle said.
Here's hoping that chip inspires Tunsil to become the best player in his draft class. He got screwed Thursday night, as in royally. He didn't deserve to be humiliated for doing something that a lot of college kids minor in, if not major in, yet in Chicago he handled this ungodly and unscheduled mess like a grown-up -- at least until an official unnecessarily rushed him out of a news conference.
Tunsil already has said he doesn't want to press charges against the culprit who stole his money, and his good name, at a most damaging time. So you can go ahead and root for Jared Goff and Carson Wentz and Ezekiel Elliott, the skill position guys at the top of the first round.
My favorite rookie just became the left tackle from Michael Oher's school, a kid who did nothing to earn this vicious hit from the blind side.