Stand Behind P. J.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If things actually are as they currently seem to be, there's no reason P. J. Hairston shouldn't be wearing a Carolina uniform this season.

There are two issues at heart here. The first is whether or not any NCAA statutes were violated, an issue that hinges on exactly who Haydn Thomas is.

I think we can all agree that if Thomas is found to be a booster or runner or someone with material ties to agents or the university, then it will be time to part ways with P. J. Hairston. But as long as Fats Thomas is just a guy who throws and attends parties also attended by athletes from UNC, Duke, and other area schools, the NCAA stuff doesn't seem to be a problem.

By driving someone else's rental cars, Hairston is not receiving unique benefits that he might not otherwise receive if he weren't an athlete. Parents rent cars for their kids all the time, student-athletes or not. Siblings rent for siblings. Friends lend and give to friends because they are friends, not because their friends are athletes.

As sketchy and untrustworthy as Thomas seems to be, if he's not materially connected to agents or the university, he's abetting no infraction--whether he realizes it or not.

The larger, and more complicated, issue is the second one: Do you want a guy like this on your team? Barring NCAA violations, that's the question Roy Williams and university officials have to answer.

Among the anti-Carolina crowd, these days, you hear a lot of high-minded "we would never want a guy like that playing for us." Words like "reprobate" and worse are tossed around--which, when you consider that these people don't know Hairston personally nor all the facts surrounding the incident, tends to say more about the accusers than the accused.

And that's the problem. The people investigating the facts aren't talking about them. So, every judgment we hear in the meantime is primarily subjective, usually designed to influence decision-makers through the court of public opinion, and often far too hasty to impugn Hairston's character with no real knowledge of the situation.

Here's what we do know about P. J. Hairston. He did a terrible and regrettable thing. He was cited and arrested for marijuana possession and driving without a license. There is speculation that additional gun charges may be in the offing. But, as things stand, he is not being charged.

I don't at all believe that this is a minor thing. But I also don't believe it's a dismissable one, because we also know this about P. J. Hairston: he's never given us any problems in the past.

By all accounts, Hairston's been as dedicated to North Carolina and the North Carolina basketball program off the court as he has been on it. Contrast Hairston with, say, Will Graves, a player whose indifference was palpable both within and without the sidelines, yet one whose coaches and university still saw fit to give second and third chances.

Times are different now, you hear. In the wake of academic and football scandals, it will be very hard for the university to stand behind another "black eye" or "stain" on the UNC athletic program. They simply can't afford to back Hairston.

Not only does this opinion prize image above substance and reputation above truth, but if it's reputation that you're worried about (and as long as further information doesn't prove otherwise), I say we can't afford not to back Hairston. I say, it's not at all hard to stand behind him. You just stand behind him. You don't sacrifice a dedicated athlete for the sake of appearance by letting a football scandal come to bear on a decision you would have made about a basketball player absent said scandal.

Like it or not, this summer has become a major turning point in the life of P. J. Hairston, for the better or for the worse. And at some point, some very important decision-makers are going to have to choose whether to quit on Hairston or whether to play a major role in helping to turn a young man's life around. They have the power to create an opportunity, or to close the door on one.

Keep in mind, I don't know Hairston either, and my opinion of his personal character, to this point, is extrapolated largely from what he exudes on the court--hard worker, selfless, dedicated, tough--and from the fact that Roy has always given him a well-intentioned hard time, which leads me to believe his coach thinks pretty highly of him, as well. But I happen to think Hairston is a good guy who cares a great deal and is willing to prove it.

The mass of opinion descending on Chapel Hill from our noteworthy neighbors is Go ahead, get rid of him. He's given you every reason to, and no one would blame you. Everyone will understand.

If your chief concern is what other people think, then this is probably the easiest thing to do.

It'd be nice to quiet that cacophony, but this isn't about the ABC crowd. There are plenty of reasons Duke and State fans shouldn't want Hairston suiting up this year--14.6, 4.3, and 1.4 reasons, in fact.

This is about proving to the critics that the character of our institution is not one which seeks to do the easy thing, but one concerned with doing the right thing.

Let's show them there are still people out there who know the difference.

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