The Death of a Musician: A Sea Change in Sports Hazing?


On March 4, 2013, the ten individuals originally charged in the hazing death of Florida A&M band member, Robert Champion, had their charges raised to manslaughter.  In addition, two new individuals were charged with manslaughter, bringing the count to a total of twelve manslaughter charges.[1. Kyle Hightower, Manslaughter counts, trial delay for FAMU case, Miami Herald (March 4, 2013)] This increase from felony hazing charges marks a substantial advancement for the family of Mr. Champion, who seek justice in the aftermath of Mr. Champion’s death. This significant modification is also a win for those affected by hazing and bullying, as this case is a tragic example of why these practices must stop in the future. 

Mr. Champion was a healthy 26 year-old drummer for the Florida A&M marching band, a position he had dreamed of and fought long and hard to obtain. [2. Ben Montgomery, Recounting the deadly hazing that destroyed FAMU band’s reputation, Tampa Bay Times (November 9, 2012)] Following a football game in which the band marched at half-time, Mr. Champion, while on the school bus, was subjected to an array of trauma inflicted by fists, legs, feet, drumsticks and drum mallets.  The account of his beating is harrowing and vile. [3. Id.] Moreover, Mr. Champion was not the only one tormented by his band mates, with others blacking out and vomiting as a result of the hazing on that very day. Mr. Champion would ultimately succumb to the blows dealt to him by his fellow musicians right there on the bus. The Florida A&M band, one of the most prestigious marching bands in the country, will forever bear the scar of Mr. Champion’s death.

The practice of hazing can be found all over the country and can take many different forms.  When I was a high-school baseball player, my teammates and I would haze the underclassmen with simple tasks such as carrying equipment and telling embarrassing stories.  Major League Baseball is also known for some very humorous hazing techniques, which include rookies dressing in absurd outfits. [4. MLB Rookie Hazing (Photo Gallery) (October 1, 2012)] Fraternities and sororities are known for their hazing during the pledge periods where new members are initiated (you’ll just have to trust me on this one) [5. David J. Skorton, A Pledge to End Fraternity Hazing, The New York Times (August 23, 2011)] and so is the financial world. [6. John Carney, Hazing at Goldman Sachs, CNBC (April 26, 2011)] However, just because hazing is so widespread, does not mean it is harmless.  In the sports world, where hazing has become an accepted and expected tradition, it must be understood that a certain line cannot be crossed.  Funny traditions or making the new guys carry the water cooler are fine; it is a rite of passage, but physical contact that can injure a person, teammate, or friend crosses the line and should never be tolerated.  Anything physically intimidating or painful, or any act that would provide mental anguish, such as name calling or threats, should not be tolerated.  A blind eye must no longer be turned to this conduct.

Without a doubt, plea bargains will be offered to the twelve responsible for Mr. Champion’s death.  However, no bargain can bring back the promising young life of Robert Champion.  His story can be used as an example that all forms of physical and mental torment, name calling and physical or verbal humiliation should not be tolerated in the sports world.

One comment

  1. I’m so glad someone chose to write on this topic – it stuck out to me when I saw the headline. I like that you drew the line between playful types of hazing (like your high school baseball team) and then the extreme type of physical torment that plagues a lot of schools and leagues. It crosses the line to more of a gang initiation and it will be interesting to see how the school reacts as well.

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