I was actually ready to go to bed when I finally saw that P.J. Hairston had been cited for speeding and reckless driving, his third run-in with the law since May. UNC and Roy Williams wasted little time once the news went public in announcing an indefinite suspension of Hairston. As 99.9 The Fan's Joe Ovies points out, there wasn't much of a choice here.
However, this was Hairston's third such car-related incident since May and the first transgression since Williams released a statement discussing punishment without actually administering any. Let's rewind to July 15th, when Williams finally said something about Hairston's June 5th arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving without a license.
"P.J. and I have had several discussions already and he knows he has made serious mistakes and there will be serious consequences as a result," said Williams. "Certainly the idea of suspending PJ has been discussed. However, he is not currently enrolled in summer school, is not practicing with the team and we have no games until November."
At the time, Williams was right in not adding anything tangible to his words. Durham authorities eventually dismissed those charges a week after the statement after Hairston showed proof that he had a driver's license and had completed a drug assessment program. As for the rental cars and his connection to Haydn “Fats” Thomas, the NCAA will eventually put it on their weighted scale of justice.
Williams' statement also acted as the new baseline for Hairston to maintain. All he had to do was keep a low profile between now and the start of the basketball season, serve some sort of punishment and everyone will move on with their lives.
Well, so much for that idea.
In other words, Hairston has not been suspended for his Sunday joyride down I-85 in Rowan County in a car that wasn't his(although it was his girlfriend's which is an improvement over rental cars I suppose.) The Tar Heel junior's continued poor judgment, with the latest coming after a heart-to-heart with his head coach, forced Williams' hand. Basically, Williams was affording Hairston every opportunity to straighten himself out. The charges from the May arrest for marijuana had been dropped by the Durham DA. The situation was moving in the right direction leaving only the possible NCAA issues to clean up. That aspect of it was expected to result in some sort of suspension but as it stood last week, the story had mostly quieted down. Then comes the latest interaction with law enforcement in North Carolina. Yes, Hairston is 20 years old and things like this happen. If we are talking about just this citation, well, we probably wouldn't be talking about it at all except to make jokes.
Unfortunately, this citation probably violates an understanding Roy Williams had with his leading scorer that things would be different going forward. As Ovies points out, there was a new baseline which was likely zero tolerance for additional screw-ups. North Carolina as a school and athletic department have been involved in a three year long pitch battle with public perception. While Hairston had nothing to do with football violations or the academic scandal, the totality of bad PR since 2010 magnifies how any negative news is viewed. In a vacuum this is one player making a series of mistakes. In the context of the other issues it is yet another tire on the dumpster fire. Prior bad acts are absolutely admissible in the court of public opinion and affect how even one individual's behavior is viewed. Not that it matters. Hairston's behavior alone is enough to warrant action here and it is doubtful Williams is even factoring in UNC's larger issues.
The question is what's next? Everyone knows the suspension has no real teeth which is why Williams didn't do it before now. Williams even said suspending Hairston didn't matter because he wasn't enrolled at summer school or practicing with the team. However, the Tar Heel coach promised "serious consequences" so given Hairston's name showed up in the headlines again, something had to be done publicly even if it is toothless. The suspension also buys time as the other issues are sorted out.
Barring Hairston being kicked off the team, the latest problem likely doesn't change the process of reaching some sort of resolution. UNC is still dealing with the potential NCAA issues and will need to get an answer from the governing body on Hairston's eligibility for next season. It stands to reason the plan all along was to let the NCAA mete out whatever justice it saw fit and enhance that if necessary. With Hairston running afoul of Williams and the law again, it's a safe bet something will be added to whatever the NCAA does.