The president of Florida A&M University has announced Tuesday he will be suspending the school’s famous Marching 100 band until investigators establish what led to a member’s death last weekend.
Speaking at a press conference at the university earlier today, James Ammons, said the school has formed an independent task force to examine the death of Robert Champion. The panel would try to “determine if there are patterns of inappropriate behavior within the culture of the band,” Ammons said, amid rumors of hazing as a possible factor in Champion’s death.
The 26-year-old, an Atlanta native, was found unconscious on Saturday night by Orlando paramedics aboard a parked charter bus in front of the Rosen Plaza. He was transported to a nearby hospital and later pronounced dead.
Eyewitnesses told Orange County deputy sheriffs, Champion reportedly threw up in the parking lot and started complaining of not being able to breathe.
Champion’s cause of death is still under investigation and so far detectives say there is no evidence of foul play. The medical examiner’s office has not released details of the autopsy, saying they need to do further tests.
But there is growing speculation among students and on social media sites that Champion’s death could be linked to hazing, especially because his family says they were not aware of any pre-existing medical conditions. Students and alumni posting on Facebook and Twitter claim Champion was beaten to the point of unconsciousness.
One person wrote, “My prayers go out to the Marching 100 and Robert Champion’s family…damn hazing went too far. Not a good look for HBCU bands, at all.”
The Tallahassee school has had problems with hazing in the past. It has received seven reports of hazing in the last decade. Two of those cases resulted in the arrests of three people. The other cases were not prosecuted or the victims refused to cooperate.
A vigil is planned in Champion’s honor at 6:30 p.m tonight in the Lee Hall Auditorium at the University.
Pam Champion, mother of Robert Champion, says she will not attend the vigil at FAMU because she needs more answers first. “We’re not giving out any information until we find out what occurred,” she said in an interview with Tallahassee Democrat. “I need to know things, and I don’t have enough information.”
FAMU has released a statement, saying: ‘We are deeply saddened by this loss. Our hearts and our prayers go out to Mr. Champion’s family. This is a major loss for our student body, the Marching “100” and the University.’‘
Champion served as one of six drum majors for the 375-member Marching “100” band. They traveled to Orlando over the weekend for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida Classic.
The issue of hazing, in both white and black fraternities, has been a subject of discussion for some time. While hazing at white fraternities, particularly in the form of alcohol abuse, is an enormous problem, officers at black fraternities say although violent hazing has been banned, the practice persists underground. Critics say the process can be dangerous and even fatal.
Leaders of black fraternities and sororities say the controversy over hazing has the potential to overshadow the enormous contributions of fraternities, with members often raising millions annually for schools and charities.