Luke DeCock

DeCock: For college athletes, guns trump other issues

Not to be deliberately obtuse, but while rental cars and parking tickets have added a whiff of conspiracy to P.J. Hairston’s troubles, isn’t the bigger issue that a gun was found outside the car the North Carolina basketball star was driving when he was arrested?

Even though the Durham Police Department has announced no gun charges are forthcoming against Hairston, this aspect of the situation bears further examination.

If Hairston was given the use of rental cars in violation of NCAA rules, or took advantage of other impermissible benefits, he’ll have to miss games and pay restitution – just as C.J. Leslie did after borrowing an N.C. State booster’s car not too long ago.

If North Carolina failed to observe connections between its basketball players and Haydn “Fats” Thomas, the loquacious and mysterious party promoter at the center of the scandal; if this goes beyond Hairston and deeper into the basketball program; if there’s an agent involved behind the scenes, as there was with the football program, then it would be yet another stain on the reputation of a university that could once take pride in its athletics program and the balance struck between athletics and academics.

We’re not there yet, although the web spun so far has been fascinating.

Still, these developments are venal at worst and for the most part easily sanctioned and corrected. No one’s being hurt here. The NCAA has procedures for handling this kind of thing, if it can be roused to action after turning a blind eye to the way the Department of African and Afro-American Studies was systematically used to keep UNC athletes eligible.

That scandal has left a few reputations slightly bruised, but no lives at risk. The football scandal, embarrassing as it was, cost a few people their jobs and cost a few uninvolved athletes a chance to play in a bowl game, but it was no more dangerous than failing to pay a parking ticket.

The pot found inside and outside the car Hairston and his friends were using was illegal and inappropriate for Hairston’s status as a scholarship athlete and NBA prospect, but marijuana possession and driving without a license do not constitute the crime of the century.

Drive around with a 9 mm handgun and nine rounds of ammunition, though, and you’re asking for real trouble. That was also found outside Hairston’s car, and while the police said Wednesday that they don’t anticipate any additional charges against Hairston, there’s still no explanation for the gun. That’s the really worrying thing about this entire episode.

NCAA violations very rarely put lives at risk. Guns kill.

There have been 14 homicides in Durham in 2013 already. It’s an unchecked epidemic of violence, too much of it taking place in the same neighborhood where Hairston and his friends were arrested.

They may not have been looking for trouble, but sometimes it finds you. And when it does, carrying a gun makes it a gunfight, putting not only the armed but the unarmed in danger.

Everyone wants to know, what was P.J. Hairston doing driving that rental car? The real question is, why on earth was there a gun anywhere near it?

Just because he hasn’t been charged with a crime doesn’t mean Hairston doesn’t have to answer.

Mess around with someone else’s rental car, and you might miss a game. Mess around with a gun, and you might miss the rest of your life.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer