Jan 12, 2013; Tallahassee, FL, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Pj Hairston (15) dunks the ball past Florida State Seminoles guard Michael Snaer (21) and forward Terrance Shannon (2) during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

In Defense of P.J. Hairston . . . Kind Of

First of all, I would like to applaud the UNC athletic department and Coach Roy Williams for the way they have handled P.J. Hairston’s recent legal troubles. I also agree 100% with the decision to suspend him from the team indefinitely after Hairston was cited for reckless driving speeding on Sunday. However, up to this point, I do not feel that any of Hairston’s actions warrant losing his scholarship or being kicked off the team.

Sometimes fans, especially the older we get, forget that the college athletes we love so much are young adults who are going to make poor decisions. Twenty years ago, Charles Barkley created a stir of controversy when he quipped, “I’m not a role model . . . Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” At the time, Barkley was a 30 year old NBA All-Star. PJ Hairston is a 20 year old rising junior at the University of North Carolina. And while I wish all Tar Heels behaved like Stilman White of the Mormon faith and Harrison Barnes who abstains from alcohol, most of the time college kids are not going to exhibit role model behavior. God knows I didn’t. If you look at Hairston’s offenses one by one, they are not all that alarming.

  1. Driving Without a License

This is different than driving with a suspended license. One of the reasons this charge was dropped was because Hairston later produced his valid driver’s license. And while it shouldn’t become a habit, how many of us have inadvertently left the house without our wallet or purse and accidentally driven without our physical license?

2.Possession of Marijuana

This charge was dropped because the amount found on Hairston was small, and there were no signs of intent to distribute. Hairston also completed a drug assessment program that determined he did not have a drug problem. I can almost guarantee that over 50% of rising juniors at UNC have smoked marijuana at least once in their lives. If they all told the truth the numbers would be in the 70%-80% range. Last April, US News reported that 48% of Americans admitted to smoking marijuana and 52% were in favor of legalization. Twenty-five years from now, the amount found on Hairston will probably not even be illegal.

3. Reckless Driving

Last Sunday, Hairston was cited for going 93 mph in a 65 mph zone. While most of us do not normally push 100 on the speedometer, it is not uncommon especially among young drivers. The first speeding ticket I ever got was for going 85 in a 65 zone while headed back to Chapel Hill for finals. And anyone who has traveled on I-95 between New York and Florida knows that NASCAR should adopt it as an oval.

The truth is that if Hairston were a regular UNC student, no official would care about his infractions as long as his tuition got paid. Or, let’s assume that Hairston was on a (non-faith based) academic scholarship. Would he lose his scholarship as long as he kept making straight As and fulfilling the other requirements? I doubt it.

The one thing that did disturb me was the gun found during the arrest. For me, the only place a gun has in a car is in the glove box with a concealed weapon permit. Yet, the reason Hairston was suspended and why I agree with it is Hairston is becoming a habitual offender. Two speeding tickets and an arrest in less than three months is a serious problem and why the suspension was immediate and indefinite.

If this sort of reckless behavior continues through next summer when he may or may not have millions of dollars at his disposal, his personal safety becomes more of an issue. College basketball doesn’t need any more Len Bias stories. I hope to see P.J. Hairston in a UNC uniform next season, but I also hope this suspension finally sends him the right message.

Tags: Basketball NCAA NCAA Basketball North Carolina Tar Heels PJ Hairston

  • coachj

    I couldn’t disagree more. Hairston’s behavior, taken individually and not within the context of a timeline may seem like simple immaturity and bad mistakes. However, taken in it’s entirety and along the timeline in which the incidents occurred, I believe that Hariston has shown an utter disregard for the seriousness of his situation. Not only did he put himself in danger, but potentially endangered others. Not only did he shame himself, but he shamd his program, teammates and coaches.

    Had PJ simply been dealing with the arrest, it may have warranted a suspension for several games and taught him his lesson. However, AFTER his arrest, he was caught partying [on twitter], and subsequently was cited for reckless driving.

    You comparison was to say that if PJ were a regular student, no one would care about all of this and his education would continue. I would argue that if PJ were not a UNC player, he would have been arrested and would be in jail.

    Williams actions to suspend him indefinitely is perhaps the very first time that I have questioned Roy Williams actions, and I find I am in much disagreement with them. PJ should be dismissed. By allowing him the opportunity to continue to be around the program, to possibly come back, and to reap the benefits of such action, is not what is in PJ Hairston’s best interest. PJ needs to have the opportunity to enact change in his life so that he can move forward and learn from his mistakes. The only way to do that is to suffer the consequences of your actions and lose something you want or need.

    In this case, PJ needs to lose his gateway to the NBA through UNC. He needs to move out and deal with the ramifications of being dismissed. He needs to grow up, learn some humility. Finally, he needs to have the right stimulus to work hard in europe and prove his way back through that course rather than through UNC. If williams allows him to return, he is simply coddling PJ and not giving him the opportunity to learn what he needs to in order to grow up.

    For the Heels, Hairston has set a bad example for future and current players. Many bemoan the potential loss of scoring and leadership. I say he is not a leader as evidence of his behavior. I also say that for every PJ, there is a JP, a Brice, a Hicks or a McDonald waiting in the wings ready to step up and surpass what he brought. Heels fans should not worry that our championship hopes may have been set back. The bigger worry is that we win a championship with a guy that is not who we want representing us, and who others will claim is dirty.

    I am not advocating Williams abandon PJ. I am advocating that Williams provide the tought love that is necessary, and help usher PJ out the door and onto the next phase, always keeping his door open to PJ when he needs advice.

    Bottom line, we are all going to be fine without PJ. But, PJ will not be fine if he is allowed to continue with UNC. He needs to be given the opportunity to strike out on his own and overcome the mess he made, but it shouldn’t be done at Chapel Hill.

    • Terry L Foye

      Your comments are spot on. I am a life time Tarheel fan and graduate. I did some crazy things when I was in school, however, I never did anything that would have gotten me a wrap sheet. PJ’s continuous disregard for the law and what I am sure are some extensive rules that come from being a tarheel scholar athlete. The university has already wasted enough money on his free education, travel, food and other rewards afforded to him. It’s obvious that he does not have the values or self-discipline needed to be a college athlete. He is not the first nor will he be the last but I think Coach Williams and the administration have been more than patient with him and this latest incident is proof positive that he does not get it. It has not even been a week since he escaped charges and he is back in trouble again. Let’s not wait until the true connections with the felon that keeps renting him these cars come out or until something worse happens.

    • Steve

      @coachj Totally agree with you as well and I could not disagree with the author more. I love UNC and I was a big PJ fan before all of his legal troubles. However, his actions have demonstrated a total disregard any leeway or benefit of the doubt he was initially given. Not to mention the article completely disregards the possibility of NCAA violations that may occur from any potential impermissible benefits he received i.e. the rental cars. At this point, the last thing we need is the NCAA back on campus again snooping around.

      The difference between college athletes and everyday students is that when you’re an athlete, you’re on a team and other people count on you. When you do stupid things, get suspended, damage the school’s reputation, that hurts the team. Whereas, if you’re just a student, and you mess up, it is only on you. That’s why what PJ did is different and that’s why it’s worse than if some random kid at UNC did the same thing it wouldn’t be as bad. Double standard or not that’s reality. PJ has proven that he didn’t make a stupid mistake; he chose to break the rules and the law repeatedly, regardless of how it might affect his teammates or his coaches. Personally, I think Roy was too soft on him initially and he should have been suspended indefinitely following the first incident. After all this, I don’t think he deserves to play for Carolina again. Give that honor to some other kid who will appreciate the opportunity and be a team player.

  • Kevin Glass

    Is this a joke? This article makes us look bad. The main thing I disagree with is your complete disregard for his association with convicted felons and people that (allegedly) had weed and guns on them. I don’t care if the gun wasn’t PJ’s, he was driving a rental car (rented by a felon) with two other people that had weed and/or a gun on them (again, allegedly, but lets not be blind to this). This is not the company I want my tarheel brethren to keep. The NCAA is now back investigating us and could potentially bring even more sanctions down regarding the rental cars. How can you write an article defending PJ Hairston and not even care to mention the rental cars linked to a convicted felon?? That is the biggest problem I have with his actions. He obviously doesn’t “get it”, but as a fan and alum, he is making a mockery of our institution, and that stings me to no end.