HBO's Real Sports features interview with student charged in hazing death of FAMU drum major
One of the first students to speak publicly among those charged with crimes in the hazing scandal at Florida A&M University, tells HBO's Real Sports show that he tried to save the drum major who died after a beating by fellow members in the school's band.
Rikki Wills (right), who is among 11 students charged with felonies after the death of Robert Champion in November, told Real Sports contributor Frank Deford he and other drum majors tried to shield Champion from blows by other band members in an initiation called "Crossing Bus C." The ritual involved walking from the front to the back of a parked bus, while dodging blows from other bandmembers delivered by sticks, belts and fists.
The story airs at 10 p.m. tonight on HBO.
"Robert started panicking...he was like, 'I can't breathe, can't breathe," Wills told the program about Champion's reaction after surviving the beating. "He said he couldn't see. His eyes was wide open...He started saying 'Oh Lord, Jesus, please help me. Please help me.' Those were probably the last words he said." Champion died Nov. 19 after enduring the beating after a game in Orlando; police ruled it a homicide.
The death made headlines worldwide. Champion's parents have filed a lawsuit against the school and the bus company, subsequent stories revealed some members of the school's Marching 100 band were not students and FAMU president James Ammons resigned Monday after weathering months of criticism.
Wills told Real Sports he endured the marching band's hazing in ways Champion did not. "You have to prove you're tough," said Wills, who noted Champion eventually relented and decided to submit to the ritual in November. "So I did it to show them that, 'Hey, I'm nobody to play with. I'm tough. Don't try me.'"
Deford, an award-winning sportswriter and commentator for Sports Illustrated and NPR, returns to the subject of hazing in marching bands at historically black colleges for tonight's Real Sports episode two years after his first report on the subject. He said that first story, which featured one female student showing off a plum-sized bruise from a beating and another hefting a huge wooden plank to show how students were beaten, got a curious response.
"It didn't seem to make a ripple of difference," Deford said. "I was horrified at what we found and what we showed and it didn't seem to touch anybody...I was shocked that it didn't seem to resonate."
Deford said he tried for months to get an interview with Ammons, who declined to speak. He added Wills' attorney contacted the program offering an interview to try and separate his client's story from those who may have tried to beat Champion.
"I think, perhaps, it took this kid's horrible death...to make people sit up," said Deford. "Music is supposed to be sweet and tender. For it to have this violence connected to it is amazing to me and sad."