Last night,during the first round of the NF draft, Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil became confronted with an effort to harm his promising career. Indeed, he soon had more with which to deal than holding up a jersey with his name on it, hand-shakes, and a few interviews . Minutes before NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell announced the first pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, a video of an individual smoking marijuana in a face-covering gas mask was posted on Tunsil’s verified Twitter account and quickly went viral. (Tunsil later confirmed that he was the individual in the video).
As ESPN reported, all 32 of the NFL teams had become aware of the video minutes after it was posted (thanks in no small part to its viral status). Tunsil’s agent stated that Tunsil’s Twitter account had been hacked and subsequently shut down, and they had advised the teams of the same. However, such efforts failed to prevent immediate harm to Tunsil. Tunsil, who at one time had been projected to be the Number 1 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, fell to the 13th overall pick.
To make matters worse, right after the Miami Dolphins chose Tunsil, someone apparently hacked Tunsil’s Instagram account and posted content that appeared to be screenshots of Tunsil with the coaching staff at Ole Miss. The images were suggested to portray Tunsil requesting and accepting rent money from the Ole Miss coaching staff – which would be considered a violation of NCAA rules and regulations.
On Thursday night, Tunsil stated that he does not plan on pressing charges even if he does identify the hacker. However, it’s not difficult to imagine potential criminal charges or a civil claims that could be brought against the individual that hacked Tunsil’s accounts. By obtaining unauthorized access to Tunsil’s social media accounts, the individual arguably violated the federal criminal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030 (which also provides for civil remedies). The conduct may also run afoul of several other computer and technology based federal statutes depending on the information obtained by the hacker. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, Tunsil would have a strong case for tortious interference with his business or prospective relations with the NFL and its teams. Reports suggest that several NFL teams declined to draft Tunsil based on the release of the video posted to Twitter. Moreover, his drop in the draft pick cost him an estimated $12 million in potential salary and another $8.75 million in a signing bonus.
These events serve as a chilling reminder that no matter how well an individual protects his or her accounts and/or information, anyone can be susceptible to a hacker or data breach. Yet, should such events occur, there exist both criminal and civil remedies that can be pursued. Even where the conduct appears to be anonymous, there exists the potential to obtain information that will inevitably identify the party responsible. That being said, every situation has its own unique circumstances and no guarantees can be made that the party responsible will be identified.
– Submitted by Associate Meghan K. Nugent who has an interest in sports and sports law. Her practice also regularly immerses her in issues relating to Internet law.