The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
December 9, 2011
Robert Champion, a drum major with Florida A&M University’s “Marching 100” Band, died last month. His death came hours after performing at the annual Florida Classic football game between A&M and Bethune-Cookman University.
Champion was found unresponsive on a bus parked outside a hotel after the game. Police have not been specific, but said they believe hazing played a part in his death. University officials have been more direct. As a result of hazing, four students were expelled from the school, and another 30 were dismissed from the band, according to A&M President James Ammons.
As with the Penn State and Syracuse sex scandals there appeared to be a code of silence within the Florida A&M community which permitted hazing in the form of assault, and now even murder, to continue for years. Hazing is a crime in Florida -- just as it is in Pennsylvania -- and 42 other states across the country.
A lawyer hired by the Champion family said that this was not the first such hazing report involving the band and the university, claiming administrators did not do enough to stop the practice from taking place.
"The university was on notice that this was a problem within the band," Attorney Christopher Chestnut said. "They turned a blind eye and a deaf ear."
Over the years, former A&M band director Julian White claims to have dismissed about 100 band members for hazing. He recently shared with CBS News dozens of letters he claims to have sent to administrators pleading for a tougher response to the band’s hazing problem. "More students should have been terminated from school," White said.
However, a year ago, White responded to a Frank Deford report on hazing among band members of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) for HBO’s Real Sports. White said that Deford was just a prejudiced outsider who "made it seem like black schools are the only places where it's happening ... That's just not the case."
Whether it was happening at other universities is not the issue. It was happening at A&M and the university permitted it to continue. Just as some suggest that raping and sexually assaulting children can be overlooked at big time athletic programs, it now becomes apparent, as Deford suggested in a recent NPR commentary, abuse can happen where “HBCU bands are the headliners -- literally more popular than the football teams that they play for at halftime.”
The abuse scandals on America’s campuses are not about the culture of college sports. It is about the culture of money. Football and basketball bring in enormous amounts of cash -- so much so that university officials might choose to ignore sexual assault. Where bands fill stadiums and get television contracts they’re king. And so it goes, on those campuses administrators might choose to ignore a pattern of aggravated assault.
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