NFL prospect suffers social media nightmare as draft begins

Top NFL draft prospect Laremy Tunsil couldn’t protect his Twitter account the way he protects his quarterback.

Just minutes before the NFL draft began Thursday in Chicago, a 30-second video surfaced on Tunsil’s verified Twitter account showing the former University of Mississippi offensive lineman wearing a gas mask and smoking from a bong taped to it.

The tweet was quickly deleted. But the damage was done.

In the real-time, millisecond-by-millisecond world of social media, the video went viral. And teams interested in Tunsil, a projected top-five pick, appeared to drop out. Tunsil, ranked best at his position by CBSsports.com, sat stunned, on the verge of tears. (Editors’ note: CNET and CBSsports.com are owned by CBS.)

Sharply dressed in a black-checkered tuxedo and gold chains, Tunsil watched his stock plummet in front of a national TV audience. Some reports say he may have lost upward of $10 million in potential salary.

No surprise, Tunsil was ripped mercilessly on Twitter. He was eventually selected by the Miami Dolphins as the 13th overall draft pick. He said he was “blessed.”

Tunsil’s agent, Jimmy Sexton of Creative Artists Agency, later told anyone who would listen that his client’s Twitter account had been hacked. Neither Tunsil nor Sexton responded to requests for comment.

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Stories like Tunsil’s are not uncommon. Pop star Taylor Swift last year said her Twitter and Instagram accounts were hacked. GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony have made similar claims in recent years.

Twitter advises any user whose account has been hacked to reset the password and delete any unwanted tweets posted to the account.

On Friday, a Twitter spokesman declined to comment on Tunsil’s account, citing privacy and security reasons.

After Miami picked Tunsil, a screenshot appeared on his Instagram account showing an apparent text exchange with the athletic director at the University of Mississippi about payment of rent and utility bills for Tunsil’s mother. In the exchange, Tunsil apparently asked for $305 and the school official said that was more than they’d agreed to.

The Instagram account has been deleted.

When reporters later started grilling the 21-year-old about whether he took money from the school — a violation of NCAA rules — Tunsil initially denied it. Then he said, “I’d have to say, ‘yeah.'”

The University of Mississippi said in a statement Thursday that it was investigating the situation.

“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 school said. The SEC refers to the Southeastern Conference, the collegiate league the school plays in.

Tunsil also addressed reporters about the bong incident.

“I made that mistake several years ago, and somehow somebody got into my photos and hacked my Twitter account,” he said in a news conference. “It’s getting crazy. I can’t control it, man.”

He also said he never failed a drug test and doesn’t know who hacked his social media accounts.

If someone did hack Tunsil’s accounts, they may have violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prohibits access to another person’s data. Those convicted face a potential five-year prison sentence for each violation.

Even before Thursday’s social disaster, Tunsil had faced concerns about his character, something NFL teams evaluate when considering players. He was suspended by the NCAA for seven games last season for receiving improper benefits, including the use of three loaner cars.

To compound matters, Tunsil was sued this week by his stepfather, who alleged the player attacked him and defamed his character. The two filed domestic charges against each other after Tunsil alleged that his stepfather attacked his mother last summer.

Those charges were eventually dropped.

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