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.

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

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.