P.J. Hairston jeopardizing his career, life

In high school, I flipped multiple times in my friend’s SUV after a bunch of teenagers thought it would be a good idea to punch the gas on a slick Milwaukee road. We weren’t wearing seatbelts, either.

A few years later, I topped 100 mph with another buddy simply because we wanted to know what it would feel like to hit 100 mph on the freeway.

During college, I piled into a small vehicle with seven other people, even though we knew the driver was completely drunk.

In all of those situations, we could have killed ourselves or someone else.

I don’t want this column to read as though it’s coming from the Pulpit of the Saintly Sportswriter. Because it’s not.

North Carolina star P.J. Hairston has made some dumb decisions. I have too.

But it doesn’t excuse the behavior or end the jeopardy surrounding his future. And it doesn’t minimize the severity of his decisions or mine.

On Sunday, Hairston was suspended indefinitely after being cited for reckless driving near Salisbury, N.C. The team’s leading scorer reportedly hit 93 mph in a 65 mph zone.

He could have killed himself, or someone else.

That was only the latest in a series of incidents that include a June arrest for marijuana possession and driving without a license. A gun was recovered near the vehicle.

But the charges against Hairston were dropped in that case. Still, the university may have to deal with an NCAA investigation because the car Hairston was driving was reportedly rented by convicted felon Haydn Patrick "Fats" Thomas.

The junior wing was also cited for speeding in May.

There’s a mess in Chapel Hill. And Hairston is responsible for it.

Hairston, who led the program in scoring with 14.6 PPG last season, chose to play a third season for the Tar Heels after considering the NBA draft. At the time, he said he returned because he wanted to “support” Roy Williams.

"I have spent a lot of time with my family over the past couple of days discussing school and my future and I have decided to return to the University of North Carolina for my junior year," said Hairston, per the school’s website. "I value the experiences I have had over the past two years in Chapel Hill, and hope to continue to grow under Coach Roy's guidance. Coach always says 'When you focus on the team during the season, I will support you in the off-season.' This is my way of supporting coach, my teammates and the Tar Heel community. Go Heels!"

Hairston has betrayed Williams, his teammates and the Tar Heel community with this stretch of drama.

Any punishment seems justifiable right now.

Should he be kicked off the team? If he had hit another vehicle on Sunday and seriously injured or killed someone, we wouldn’t even pose the question.

Should he be suspended for the season? The semester? 15 games? Five? That’s up to Williams.

But Williams, who promised severe consequences for Hairston after last month’s arrest, will probably be supported regardless of the punitive measure he chooses.

The last thing any coach needs is a distraction on a team packed with youth, especially if a veteran is responsible for that distraction.

It’s a difficult situation, however, for Williams and other coaches. The “what could have happened” is not “what actually happened.”

Hairston and the other motorists in his vicinity on Sunday were not harmed. Fortunately. And who knows the full truth behind that traffic stop in Durham last month, but charges against Hairston were dropped.

The court of public opinion -- see Twitter -- recommends excommunication from Tar Heels basketball.

And, as I mentioned earlier, Williams has that right.

But I don’t think that’s the proper choice.

I think Hairston needs Tar Heels basketball for reasons beyond basketball.

In the past two months, he’s become a second-round NBA prospect with red flags. This latest event might have cost Hairston millions in earning potential and his professional future.

That NBA dream was simply deferred when he decided to return for his junior season. Now, it might be dead.

If he really came back to “support” Williams and boost Tar Heels basketball, he can prove it now.

It’s time for the standout to drop the ego and do whatever it takes to regain Williams’ trust, if he’s granted that opportunity. It’s time for Hairston to forget about basketball and consider his livelihood. It’s time for Hairston to prove to his teammates that he’s learned from his mistakes.

A lengthy suspension -- barring any additional problems -- would be sufficient. Lengthy could mean 10 games. Could be 15 or even more. Doesn’t matter.

Basketball is secondary.

Whatever it takes to get Hairston’s life back on track. Whatever it takes for Williams to believe in him again.

Perhaps Williams will give Hairston that chance. Perhaps he won’t. He doesn’t have to.

And Hairston has to accept either outcome. He did this to himself.

Hairston’s antics suggest that he’s embraced this fictitious idea of invincibility that often dooms young men on grand stages.

Just a little faster. Just a few puffs. Just one more drink. Just one last party.

A lot of college kids -- grown people, too -- make poor choices every day.

Sometimes we get caught. Sometimes we don’t.

Hairston, however, has to realize that a suspension or jail time could be the least of his worries if he runs (or drives) into more trouble.

He could be eternally sidelined in a cemetery if he’s not careful.