Crisis Crosshairs: Gas Masks, Social Media Subterfuge & the NFL Draft

You know the image. Tears of joy streaming down a young man's face as he hugs the NFL commissioner. After years of hard work in the trenches and weeks of speculation, rumors and every misstep catalogued by prospective employers, a football player gets picked to compete at the highest level. Last night 31 men fulfilled the dreams of playing in the NFL, but Laremy Tunsil paid a much steeper price than most due to reputation issues set ablaze by the hijacking of his Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Days before the draft, Tunsil's stepfather filed a suit against him for assault and defamation, but the biggest blow came moments before the draft when his Twitter account was hacked and a video of him smoking pot from a bong with a gas mask.  Laremy Tunsil gas mask bongBefore the trade frenzy for the top two picks on the draft, Tunsil was part of the conversation for the first overall pick. At the sixth pick, the Ravens were expected to draft an offensive lineman many expected to be Tunsil. The video changed their mind:


From that moment, the Tunsil freefalling narrative spanned draft broadcasts, radio, social media and every other form of noise imaginable.  Finally picked at the #13 slot, CBS pegged the decline as a loss of $8 million to Tunsil.     

And that was only the beginning.  

Shortly after being drafted and conducting an on-point interview with NFL Network that re-clarified the situation, refused to point fingers and looked forward to proving himself to everyone, Tunsil's Instagram was hacked. And this is where the crisis spread from individual to organization:

Jeremy Tunsil Instagram, crisis communication, NFL draft
Jeremy Tunsil Instagram, crisis communication, NFL draft

While Tunsil's alma mater is already under investigation for impermissible benefits and recruiting violations, the NCAA has even more evidence to work with against Ole Miss. Per SBNation, the above exchange is suspected to be between Tunsil and the Assistant Athletic Director of Football Operations at Ole Miss, and references another staffer. Tunsil then confirmed the situation during a live ESPN interview, admitting an exchange of money involving coaches. Thus, a night that seemed to hit Tunsil's pocketbook and reputation the hardest suddently enflamed a crisis at Ole Miss with jobs, sanctions and its reputation on the line.  

You may not care about Ole Miss, have a future career in the NFL or in collegiate athletics but this situation presents key takeaways for everyone:

  1. Re-evaluate your social media security.  Virtually all social media channels offer two-factor authentication and you should have those pieces in place at a minimum.  And if you manage your brand's account, you should be sure others who have access follow suit and can be removed if needed. 
  2. Your brand is only as strong as those who represent you. From Tiger Woods to Jared Fogle of Subway, there are countless spokespeople who have generated controversy for brands. Athletes can present similar challenges, especially in the moment they shift allegiances to another organization. 
  3. Be transparent before someone else makes you. The difference between proactive and reactive communication is often the tipping point between an issue and a crisis. This requires both an understanding of what could happen by building out a crisis plan with all imaginable scenarios and a knowledge of issues in process through ongoing communication with key contacts in your organization where these scenarios can occur.   

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About Chad Biggs

Chad Biggs feeds a lifelong obsession with storytelling by helping clients capture and meaningfully share their stories with the people that matter. As Red Sky’s Chief Content Officer, Chad’s work is driven by a deference to the written word and his innate ability to craft an acute, concise message for clients ranging from healthcare to technology to renewables.

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