Archive for May, 2012

NPR debate: Should college football be banned?

May 30, 2012
By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

Just got through listening to a really interesting debate sponsored by National Public Radio about whether college football should be banned in light of recent coverage of head injuries, corruption, et cetera.

I’ll freely admit, I’m getting a little off-topic here, since the event wasn’t about hazing. But I figure a lot of readers of the blog would be interested to see the link.

Listen. Enjoy. Get angry or agree heartily. And please drop a comment below. This one screams out for further discussion, I think.

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Did FAMU band staff literally look the other way during beatings?

May 25, 2012

The trickle of alarming details continues as reporters and members of the public comb through the trove of documents recently released by the Florida state prosecutor in the Champion case.

A long, document-based story from ABC News on Thursday reconstructing events the night of the Florida Classic included this little tidbit, buried six paragraphs into the narrative:

Band members said that the band director and bus driver were not on the bus for [Champion’s] “crossing over,” but that they were sometimes up front watching movies during the “hot seat” beatings.

Whoa! Full stop. Let’s ponder that one for a moment. That’s a rather serious allegation unto itself, one that stretches well beyond Champion’s death per se, all the way to what’s often described as “a culture of hazing” for which the higher-ups bear much responsibility.

A big document dump

May 24, 2012

Prosecutors in the Robert Champion case have just released thousands of pages of interview transcripts and other documents. Reporters who have seen the stuff say it offers by far the most detailed account yet of what went down in those fateful hours after last November’s Florida Classic.

The AP’s Kyle Hightower writes:

Robert Champion was known for his opposition to the hazing rampant in the Florida A&M University marching band, but he was vying to be lead drum major and wanted the respect he could earn by enduring a brutal ritual known as “crossing over.” With chances for initiation ending with the football season, fellow band members say, Champion agreed to run through a bus lined with people kicking and beating him with drumsticks, mallets and fists.

The decision would be fatal.

Interviews with defendants in Champion’s killing and other band members released Wednesday paint the most detailed picture yet of what happened the night he died last November. They also offer some insight into why Champion, whose parents and friends say he was a vocal opponent of hazing, finally relented and got aboard “Bus C”… Champion was seeking the top position in the famed marching band, leading dozens who had already endured the hazing ritual… Some felt the leadership position had to be earned.

More than anything, it sounds like the documents do an exquisite job of showing how dumb and far and from glamorous hazing ultimately is.

Unfortunately, it seems for now that summations like Hightower’s are all that’s practical for most people to see, since there’s no link yet to full digital versions of the documents on the Web. But we’ll be sure to post the link later, whenever it’s available.

In the meantime, if you’ve found one, or if you have the docs at hand, please let us know. We’re also glad to upload and host a copy here.

[UPDATE: T]he website of Central Florida News 13, a local cable outlet, included links to the full set of documents in the sidebar to its recent story on the Champion case.]

Just get on with it already, FAMU. Ban the 100.

May 13, 2012

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

Monday’s meeting of FAMU President James Ammons and the Board of Trustees is shaping up as a crucial turning point in the broader hazing controversy that’s enveloped the school since November.

In short, it’s time for these supposed leaders of the university to put up or shut up. If they don’t confirm a lengthy, specific ban of the Marching 100 on Monday, it will be a clear sign they still – still! – aren’t truly serious about fighting hazing on campus. Not even after everything that’s happened the last few months. End of discussion.

I’ve seen a lot of chatter last few weeks in the press and on social media regarding this issue, much of it citing other cases involving sports teams or student organizations around Florida as potential yardsticks of justice at FAMU. To me, the most important precedent of all is FAMU’s own relatively recent ban of the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi for six years for beating a pledge severely. If you start there as a measurable standard that we hold ourselves to, then factor in the considerable additional seriousness of loss of life in the Champion case, the Marching 100 should be banned for about 7-10 years.

For now, the consensus speculation seems to be that the likely outcome on Monday is an extension of the university’s “indefinite” ban on the 100. But given the details have emerged since that policy was instituted in the fall — the arrests of 13 band members, the overlooked ineligibility of dozens of band members to march in last year’s Florida Classic, the participtation of faculty in past hazing, et cetera — an even stronger stance is in order at this point. That would mean committing to a ban of a specific and considerable length reflecting the overwhelming evidence that’s mounted of total organizational failure regarding hazing.

I’d add that, in a single stroke, I believe a ban of the band would substantively improve student safety even more than firing the president, the bandleader, or other senior people, despite the recent attention that’s focused on those other matters.

Don’t get me wrong. On the merits, I do believe that a lot of FAMU’s senior leadership, including President Ammons, deserve to get the ax for their roles in creating a lax environment, failing to follow up on hazing cases over the years, et cetera. Good riddance to the now-retired bandleader Julian White as well, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m just saying, we shouldn’t confuse the cathartic aspect of cutting off these screw-ups with the practical benefit. Getting rid of them is only one necessary aspect of a multi-part solution to reducing hazing on campus, and it happens to feel good too. But even after we’ve finished doing that – and believe me, heads will continue to roll — we still have to deal with the issue at the purely student-to-student level.

To fix that, I believe you have to start by banning the band for a long time. It’s only fair, based upon how we’ve dealt with other hazing organizations in the past. We’d also be sending a terrible message to other student organizations – the frats, sororities, and so forth – if we don’t ban the band at this point. And that alone would instantly create serious consequences, since it would be interpreted as an implicit carte blanche by some knuckleheads, thus making members of various student organizations less safe starting this fall.

You have to show them that any organization that violates the rules is making itself expendable. Period. Any organization. Even the band.

Charges Filed in Champion Case

May 3, 2012

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

At long last, the state prosecutor is filing charges related to November’s death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion. Of course, it’s necessary that there be justice like this, but the news carries some bittersweeet notes as well, truth be told.

If it turns out that the young people charged are guilty, it will be sad to know they squandered such a big opportunity for themselves, effectively ruining their own college careers. And, of course, no legal action can bring back Robert now. We should all keep these things in mind as we continue what will certainly be a long anti-hazing battle to come at FAMU.

After today’s press conference announcing charges in the Champion case, The Palm Beach Post quoted prosecutor Lamar Lawson asking others who have facts about Champion’s homicide “to come forward and tell the truth.”

Amen to that. This would also be a good time to encourage anyone who’s been hazed at all, whether it’s in the band or another organization, whether it’s even at FAMU or some other school, to tell someone about it. Someone you trust, whoever that may be. A parent or a friend or an adviser or whoever. In general, silence is what allows this terrible problem to exist in the first place.

One of the most disturbing things we’ve noticed in our data-collection efforts on this site is how often hazing victims and witnesses tell us of incidents but then say they’ve previously never told anyone else. Out of more than 30 submissions we’ve gotten so far, almost half say this blog is the first entity they’ve ever told about the specific hazing incidents they’re describing.

The veil of silence has to break down even more if we’re truly going to prevent another tragedy like the loss of Robert Champion from ever happening again.