The District 9 Florida State Medical Examiner ruled on Thursday, December 15, 2011 that Florida A&M University (FAMU) Marching 100 band drum major Robert Champion was beaten to death during a hazing incident following the Florida Classic football game loss to Bethune-Cookman University on November 19, accorded to reports published on Friday, December 16, 2011 by The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, National Public Radio, and multiple other news sources.
The cause of death was cited as blunt force trauma from multiple blows to the 26-year-old music major’s chest, arms, shoulders and back, that caused extensive internal bleeding.
According to the Medical Examiner’s report, “Immediately after the hazing incident, he complained of thirst and fatigue; minutes later, he noted loss of vision and soon after had a witnessed arrest.”
The family’s attorney Christopher Chestnut told the media that the family was distraught, adding, “It confirms their worst nightmare. They were certainly hoping their son hadn’t been murdered, but that’s the reality. It reopens their wounds.”
Mr. Chestnut also said that the university had a history and culture of hazing, as seen in the attached video clip and slide show which accompany this report.
No drugs or alcohol were detected in the drum major’s body, and the autopsy showed that his internal organs were otherwise healthy.
The University’s president Dr. James H. Ammons and board of trustees Chair Dr. Solomon Badger issued a joint statement, saying, “This information is extremely upsetting for all of us, even though it confirmed what we suspected. We again convey our deepest condolences to the Champion family. We will continue to cooperate with all agencies looking into the matter and are committed to creating a safe environment for the entire FAMU community and ensuring that this never happens again at FAMU.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott asked the FAMU board on Thursday to suspend Mr. Ammons while investigations into Champion’s death and separate allegations of financial mismanagement at the university were being conducted.
The family of the dead student are suing the university with the joint goals of exposing what actually happened to their son, and preventing other parents from experiencing a similar future tragedy.
In a statement on Friday evening, they said, “The Champion family’s worst fears were realized tonight when their son Robert’s death was ruled a homicide by hazing. We now hope that all those responsible for this act will swiftly be brought to justice. Our goal is that no other family will have to live through this pain.”
In Florida, any death resulting from hazing is considered a third-degree felony. However, nobody has yet been charged in this case, which is being investigated by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
It is estimated that multiple persons may eventually be prosecuted, directly for causing Mr. Champion’s death through their actions, as well as for aiding and abetting the hazing by not coming to the aid of the student during his beating.
The Florida A&M band, which had grown to 420 members, became known as the Marching 100. It dates back to 1892, when it was first founded.
As a result of Mr. Champion’s death on November 19, 2011, all band activities have been suspended and the band’s director, Dr. Julian E. White, has been fired, but has said that he intends to fight his dismissal on the basis that it was not for just cause.
According to a 2002 report by ESPN which list 68 incidents, and a survey conducted by Alfred University, following the 1978 hazing death of Chuck Stenzel, a Clan Alpine fraternity member, 80 percent of college athletes have been hazed.
The vast majority of such incidents on the high school, college and even profession sports levels go unreported, unless they eventually gain the attention of police and the news media, as in the recent Robert Champion case at FAMU.
ESPN reports that these incidents have increased steadily since 1980, when the abuse of athletes by other athletes first began to receive widespread public attention.
Many institutions are forced to react after the fact, because of lawsuits and public outrage, when lives have already been lost.
This is an all too familiar pattern that is again being repeated at Florida A&M University.
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