The National Football League draft always has the capability of making you feel dirty about the entire business, which is why the Laremy Tunsil story is so perfectly draft-ish.
Well, stories, really. He did, after all, have a picture posted on draft night with a bong, and then later denied and admitted that he was paid as a player. In the same interview.
This, kids, is the draft the NFL doesn’t want you to see, and then is brilliant at covering up. It gives you ignorance, treachery, Bizarro World photo ops, conspiracies, double standards, double-crossing, the burning of money, the fascination with the burning of money, the tiresome clucking of Internet judges, and all around degradation and shame.
It is the entertainment of the 22nd century, ramped backward so those of us in the 21st century can warn our grandchildren to warn their grandchildren.
That the draft also happened the day that Mark Davis declared that he is ready, willing and able to take his football team from Oakland to Las Vegas if only he can plead a clever case to the 31 other owners, most of whom already squeezed him ruthlessly out of Los Angeles.
That is the power of this night. It raises the recitation of names to a national fetish, it deludes armies of people into thinking they know how to bring structure to an utterly mad business, and it casts it all in massive artifice into which no surprise cannot be both magnified and absorbed.
For instance, most of you are far more interested in DeForest Buckner as the latest proof that San Francisco’s Chip Kelly believes football was invented in the Pacific 10 Conference, or Denver drafting Paxton Lynch and forcing the 49ers to eat Colin Kaepernick for the even further foreseeable future, or Karl Joseph as the man who can reorder the Raiders’ secondary, or Jared Goff as Aaron Rodgers Deux. Neither you nor I know any of these things as fact, and there are still two other days of this orgiastic ritual still to go, but screw it. For all you’ve been told, these were the guys the 49ers and Raiders wanted above all others, and you’re going to buy it and then say you know it all along because the draft is equal parts illusion and delusion.
So it goes. Far be it from me to ruin Backup Christmas for you.
But the draft is also part of the mythmaking machine, co-sponsored by the league and those who cover it, and that means it has the power to highlight one bit of shame while obscuring a different one, all the while finding happy stories throughout the night upon which to graft the league’s unwavering devotion to photo ops of happy families and military members.
The logic is simple: It isn’t what it is, it’s what you can make it seem like.
For example, Tunsil was declared a raving idiot and then a conspiracy victim for having a picture of himself with a bong and a gasmask from the Second Battle of Ypres released on draft night, and then the Miami Dolphins were hailed as football geniuses for drafting Laremy Tunsil. He was castigated for losing millions of dollars, and the Dolphins were lauded for getting the best bargain in the draft.
It is a moment like this when you realize that throwing up into a wastebasket can be a political statement.
Mostly, though, it was just more proof that all politics are local, and most fans only want to make believe that they know what their team just did by saying this name rather than that name, by exchanging this number for a different number. Buckner will endure in San Francisco and Joseph in Oak Vegas more than Tunsil because Tunsil is Miami’s problem. And, well, Oxford, Mississippi’s, if you include the accusations of coaches paying him.
And then comes Sunday, when the most rancid form of degeneracy yet imagined rears its hideous carapace.
The first mock draft of 2017. We are doomed.