Don’t do drugs. Follow the rules. Think twice before you post to social media.
If that’s the advice that teenagers and college students have been hearing — and often ignoring — for years, newly minted Miami Dolphin Laremy Tunsil’s experience at the NFL draft on Thursday seemed to offer the latest in a long line of high-profile teachable moments.
Projected to be among the top five picks in the draft, the former Ole Miss tackle’s stock fell precipitously when, minutes before the draft began, a video of him smoking from a bong attached to a gas mask was posted from his Twitter account, and screen grabs that allegedly show him asking an Ole Miss coach for cash were posted from his Instagram account.
Tunsil, who was eventually picked 13th, plausibly claimed he’d been hacked, but acknowledged it’s him on the video, and that he’d taken money at Ole Miss in violation of NCAA rules.
The Twitter and Instagram posts likely cost him millions: Thursday’s top pick was projected to be rewarded with a contract worth $28 million, while 13th came with a contract worth less than half that, at around $12.5 million over the next four years, according to Spotrac.
“I’m just blessed to be here,” said a contrite Tunsil after his selection. Despite an ugly, long-running dispute with his stepfather, who filed a lawsuit against him this week, he said he had no idea who had hacked him.
A multimillion-dollar contract and a new life in Miami might not be the unhappy ending that would-be moralists would choose for the 21-year old. But employment experts on Friday said Tunsil’s experience still has important lessons for recent graduates looking for work in less lucrative fields:
Turn the camera off, stupid
Let’s start with the obvious. If you’re going to do illegal drugs — as 41 percent of U.S. college students did in 2014, according to a University of Michigan study — don’t film it. At the very least, if your preferred method of smoking involves a gas mask, keep the mask on while the camera’s rolling, unlike Tunsil, who revealed his grinning, coughing face by removing his mask at the end of the video.
Keith Carroll, who heads the business psychology department of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, said employers routinely check applicants’ social media histories. He advises job hunters to “scrub their accounts to make them as professional as possible,” but says the simplest solution is not to post in the first place. “Don’t put stuff up on Instagram; don’t put stuff on the Internet,” he said.
Own your mistakes
If you’ve been caught in a compromising position, don’t insult your would-be employer’s intelligence by denying it. Own up, as Tunsil did by saying he’d “made that mistake several years ago.”
Potential employees should be ready to explain mistakes “as a learning experience, and an opportunity to grow,” said Jim Conroy, who runs the post high-school counseling department at New Trier High School in Winnetka. “Honesty is the best policy — don’t say ‘this kid influenced me’ — take ownership.”
Tom Gimbel, chief executive officer of recruitment firm LaSalle Network said that by that standard, Tunsil “did a good job of owning it.”
“There’s nothing more for him to talk about,” he said.
Carroll agreed, and said Tunsil likely limited the damage by telling the Dolphins about the video before the draft (Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier said the team had been aware of the video’s existence well before the draft, and said it was 2 years old).
“It sounds like he was honest, with the Dolphins, at least,” Carroll said. “So while he might have looked a little naive on Thursday, he wasn’t catching them by surprise.”
However, a recent grad going up against 50 other candidates for a job he or she is less uniquely qualified for might get dinged for a similar episode, however he or she handled it, he added.
But consider your audience
Still, there may be such a thing as too much honesty for the NFL, and other employers. At a news conference after his selection by the Dolphins, when Tunsil admitted that he’d solicited payment as a player at Ole Miss, he was quickly dragged offstage by a handler.
Paying student athletes and using marijuana are “issues that society is moving on,” but whichever side of a controversial issue a would-be employee is on, “the perception you’re giving out of your professionalism is important,” said Carroll, given that the NFL has enough public relations problems already between its handling of concussions and policing of players’ off-field behavior.
“Do 95 percent of people think you’re wrong if you smoke marijuana, or if your family is struggling and you ask for money?” he asked. “Probably not, but if 40 percent or 45 percent do, you have to keep that in mind.”
Be really good at what you do
Tunsil’s missteps might not have been forgiven so quickly if he wasn’t exceptionally talented at stopping large men from squishing his quarterback.
“The most talented people always have the longest leashes,” said Gimbel, who gave the example of a star surgeon being granted more leeway by a hospital than a rank-and-file nurse.
So while the NFL and the Dolphins likely wish Tunsil “kept his mouth shut” about NCAA violations, Tunsil grew up “dirt poor” and “everybody knows that this goes on in college sports,” Gimbel added.
“Their only real question is how a good a professional player is he going to be?”