(Photo: Courtesy FAMU.EDU)
Following police and university-led investigations into the mysterious death of Florida A&M University student and band member Robert Champion, the band’s now-fired band leader Julian White says he had warned the school about the band’s dangerous culture of hazing.
Two weeks before Champion’s death, White says, he suspended 26 band members who were involved in hazing and informed university officials of what was occurring.
But instead of being supported in his decision, White says he received push-back from other students and parents who felt the integrity of the band would suffer without the “star players.”
"And so the band members were apprehensive. `Doc, you think we can go without 19 trombone players?'" White told the Associated Press. "And other folks. `Doc, do you thing you can do it without them?' My comment was, it doesn't matter, I am not going to sacrifice the performance for the principle."
Although usually not officially recognized by university administration, hazing is routine among marching bands — and particularly so at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
"It's a culture," White said. "Not just a Florida A&M culture, a college phenomenon."
However, FAMU has offered some of the worst examples, including a 2001 incident where a former band member suffered kidney damage because of a beating with a paddle. Three years earlier, a clarinet player was hospitalized after he was paddled around 300 times.
Champion, 26, died after a FAMU–Bethune-Cookman football game earlier this month. Although the cause of death is still unknown, police suspect hazing was involved and are conducting an investigation into what happened that night.
Speaking out Monday, Champion’s parents said that they had no idea hazing was taking place in the band and that their son never mentioned any such activity.
“I wanted to believe stuff like that wouldn’t happen,” he said. “I would ask my son questions. ‘Is there anything you need to tell me? Let me know.’ He told me, ‘Dad everything is going OK. I’m working, trying to go to school and practice,’” Champion’s father Robert Champion Sr. told reporters.
Since Champion's death, the marching band and the rest of the music department's performances have been canceled while the university conducts a parallel investigation. The band was scheduled to become the first HBCU to perform at Carnegie Hall.
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