Hazing looked at in FAMU band member's death

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In this Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, photo, Robert Champion, a drum major in Florida A&M University’s Marching 100 band, performs during halftime of a football game in Orlando, Fla. The band, which has a history of hazing, has been shut down until investigators find out more about how Champion died after the game.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida A&M University’s famed Marching 100 band, which has a history of hazing, has been shut down until investigators find out more about how one of its members died after a football game.

University President James Ammons said on Tuesday he suspended all performances and other activities out of respect for the family of 26-year-old Robert Champion of Atlanta. The drum major was found unresponsive on a bus parked in front of an Orlando hotel Saturday after the school’s loss to annual rival Bethune-Cookman. Champion was vomiting and had complained he couldn’t breathe before he collapsed.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said a preliminary autopsy was inconclusive and that more tests would be needed to know what caused Champion’s death. But Demings said that investigators had traveled to Tallahassee and had concluded that “hazing was involved in the events that occurred prior to the 911 call for assistance.”

In Florida, any death that occurs in connection with hazing is a third-degree felony.

“In the next few days or weeks, it will become clearer as to whether any criminal charges will be forthcoming,” Demings said in a statement.

University officials acknowledged Tuesday that 30 students this semester were kicked out of the band because of hazing and that there are three active investigations.

Ammons said it would be wrong to allow the band to keep performing until more is known about what happened to Champion.

“I think we need to stop and give ourselves the opportunity to find out the facts,” Ammons said. “And until we do, I just don’t think it’s appropriate to have the band performing and representing the university.”

And Ammons didn’t stop at the Marching 100. He suspended all bands and ensembles that operate under the supervision of the university music department.

The Marching 100 was scheduled to perform at the fall commencement on Dec. 16.

Champion’s father, also Robert Champion, said his son always wanted to be in the band.

“He did what he wanted to do and he reached the plateau that he wanted to be,” he told Atlanta’s WSB-TV. “I think he was in pretty good condition. He ate and he trained and had no medical condition that I know of.”

Ammons also said that he was creating a special task force to review whether there have been inappropriate band customs.

Ammons said he was “committed to making certain that we end this practice here at Florida A&M University.”

“I’m very disappointed that we are at this point in the life of this university and we are here in 2011 dealing with an issue that should have been long, long past on our campus,” he said.