It has been a year since Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion died in a brutal hazing ritual at the hands of his fellow band members during a road trip to Orlando. Within a week, the university president had suspended the Marching 100 from performing. But now a growing, tone-deaf chorus is rising on the school's Tallahassee campus to reinstate the popular band. But the interim president is right: It is not yet time.
The Marching 100 with its trademark moves was once the toast of the world, traveling the globe to perform before heads of state, adoring crowds and even starring in commercials. The death of Champion, 26, in a hazing ritual after the 2011 Florida Classic game with Bethune-Cookman University, changed all that. The crime brought to light a brutal tradition and led to felony charges against 12 former members and the ignominious resignations of the band's director and FAMU president James Ammons. As well, FAMU faces a wrongful death lawsuit from Champion's family.
Still, many on the FAMU campus are clamoring for the reinstatement of the band, citing its intrinsic connection to campus life as well as its importance as a moneymaking engine for the school's athletic programs.
But the Champion story transcends traditional collegiate sports-related misdeeds such as NCAA recruitment violations, tampering with academic records, or players improperly accepting money from overly eager alumni. In those instances, the sanctions often involve fines, loss of scholarships, forfeiture of games won, or a ban on postseason play. In this case, however, a talented, bright young man was beaten to death by his own peers in a tradition of violence that FAMU had periodically claimed to clamp down on but was never able to extinguish.
Not enough time has passed, nor enough measures taken, to warrant reinstating the band to the field. As interim FAMU president Larry Robinson aptly put it: "It's important to bring them back with the appropriate conditions in place so we can sustain that decision, so that we don't have any mishaps, (and) so we don't put any members of the band in jeopardy, or the band, again." Anything less would dishonor Champion's memory and his family's sacrifice. The Marching 100 should be restored, but only once it's assured that its violent traditions are a thing of the past.