Former FAMU marching band drum major Robert Champion, who was beaten to death during a hazing ritual.
I am a member of a fraternity. What Greek letter organization, I will not say, because it’s irrelevant to this post. I will note that I went through two processes before I was “made” a member of this organization. The first was the pre-pledge stage, which sort of served as in introduction to what being a member of the fraternity would be like. The second was the actual pledge stage, which taught me a lot, but made my life a living hell for nearly three months. Actually, my life was a living hell for 2 months, 26 days, 17 hours, 43 minutes and 42 seconds, give or take a second or two.
When I was finally done and “made”, I was beyond ecstatic. The emotion I felt was nearly overwhelming. Hell, my linemate broke down in tears once we had the time to sit down and digest everything we had been through in order to get to that point. While I wasn’t close to crying, I understood his emotional display and didn’t have any qualms with it. But, again, that pledge process wasn’t anything to play with.
Without giving away exactly what I went through, I will state that it was both mentally and physically demanding, with more of the latter. It wasn’t just, “Thank you sir, may I have another” 24/7, but chores, tasks and exercise. Lots of exercise. There were certainly times when I wanted to “drop line” because of the physical rigors of pledging, but I felt that if I did, I would’ve gone through all of that for nothing. So I continued on, even though there were times when I was standing in front of future brothers (and sometimes sisters), thinking to myself, “WHY THE FUCK AM I DOING THIS?!” Technically, I was a willing participant, but I always felt that some of the things that transpired were just too much for the average human being to endure.
Robert Champion was also a willing participant in the Florida A&M University “Marching 100” band’s hazing ritual. I’m quite sure that like myself, he anticipated some sort of period where he would be subjected to members getting physical with him. Also, like myself, he had no clue it would be as bad as it was.
News reports have stated that Champion and a few others went through a hazing ritual on one of the band’s buses, in which he had to make his way from the front of the bus to the back while about 15 members of the band struck him, either with their limbs or seemingly whatever they could get their hands on. He made it halfway and then had a sack thrown over him, and the hazing continued. When it was finally over, Champion vomited and complained of being unable to breathe. He fell unconscious and couldn’t be revived. An autopsy has concluded that Champion suffered blunt trauma blows to his body and died from shock, which was caused by internal bleeding.
A drum major, especially one at a historically black college or university, is undoubtedly the top position. He/she is the face of the band, and often, there is more than one. It’s hard to believe that even a band member who absolutely loves playing the snare drum or trumpet hasn’t at least once fantasized about being the person who leads the band onto the field, and some are using the prestige of that position to justify putting Champion through the process.
Is hazing new? Hell no. I’m sure hazing dates back to the first social groups, not only in America, but across the globe. Still, I believe that hazing has definitely gotten out of hand. FAMU’s band has been under fire for its hazing practices before, and was featured on HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel almost two years ago. Currently, thirteen members are being held criminally responsible for Champion’s death; eleven face felony charges of third-degree felony hazing.
Some members have come out and said they tried to stop the ritual when they noticed a laboring Champion. Unfortunately, some feel they should be absolved of any wrongdoing because Champion wanted to be hazed; that he knew what he was signing up for. Once again, I’m sure he knew that things would get physical, but I don’t for one nanosecond believe he even thought it remotely possible that he’d die as a result.
This type of hazing runs rampant in Black Greek letter organizations. It deters many prospective members from even attending an open house, and causes even more to drop line once they get a small taste of it. I’ve been told, straight up, “I don’t want to get my ass beat” when asking a male student if he would be interested in joining my fraternity. Granted, when it comes to these groups, entry shouldn’t be made easy. You should, in fact, have to pay some sort of dues. “Suffering” is just something that has to be endured before you can proclaim yourself a member. But the physical abuse has to stop.
Let the street gangs “jump people in”. Let them leave prospective members lumped, bruised, fatigued and literally and figuratively beaten down. Even worse, an overwhelming majority of pledges have to maintain their coursework during the process, and I can tell you, firsthand, that your grades will most likely suffer. In fact, so will your social life. The boys, girls, men and women who want to be gangbangers are probably already not doing anything with their lives. College students are paying for an education, and it is compromised because a group of people barely older than them (sometimes younger) feel that they should have to go through the closest thing to Hell just to “cross over”.
I have spoken to members about how unnecessary these practices are. Going to get a pizza or doing laundry in the wee hours of the morning is perfectly fine. Getting your ass kicked in the name of brotherhood and sisterhood is not, and never will be. A great number of colleges and universities have outlawed hazing…on their campuses. Where most hazing occurs is off-campus, so the chapter and its members can escape any punishment from the school.
Unfortunately, a life was taken during the Marching 100’s initation of Champion and several other members. The other members who went through the process said those who go through it are left dizzy and breathless at a minimum. I believe them. I’m sure that many have been hazed in this fashion and have walked away, virtually unscathed. Yet, none of that matters. The point is that while this is accepted by far too many organizations on college campuses throughout the US, it is indeed barbaric and does nothing to help the image of Greek letter organizations, and now, marching bands, especially those with a predominantly Black membership.
FAMU’s band has been suspended for the 2012-13 school year. That’s not enough; I wanted them to be suspended for the next decade. A very strong message needs to be sent to our young people that this type of behavior will not be tolerated, whether on campus or not. Essentially, those of us who have participated wanted to be a part of another family. How does taking a beating validate your worth as a “family” member? It doesn’t. Not only is hindsight 20/20, but it’s a bitch.