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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

One in 100

I've talked a lot about the FAMU Marching 100 recently, and unfortunately, this time it is not good news. The Marching 100 are currently under suspension in the wake of the suspected hazing death of a drum major during Florida Classic weekend. 26 year old drum major Robert Champion became ill and died after returning to the hotel following the game.

Full disclosure. While I won't claim to be an expert, hazing is something that I have experience with from my day job. I work in the field of student affairs, specifically with campus programming and student organizations, and directly advise a programming board and a fraternity.

That this took place sickens me, and what sickens me more is that this is not a new phenomenon in the Marching 100. The suspension is the least possible punishment for what has allegedly taken place; if these allegations ring true, it becomes an imperative that the Marching 100 be shut down for a period of time.

Don't think for one second that I do not recognize the enormity of those words. While FAMU is a quality institution in many aspects, the 100 arguably helped put--and keep--the university on the map. FAMU is the first and to date the only HBCU to take home the vaunted Sudler Trophy for marching band excellence. The Marching 100 is one of the most respected, most televised, and most revered programs in the marching band world. I know that the loss of the 100 would be devastating to the university, and I don't take it lightly. but people are losing their LIVES over a breed of nonsense that appears to be entirely out of control, and it must come to an end. This would be the case with any other student organization that was this sort of repeat offender--fraternities have lost their charters for less--and it should be no different here. The FAMU Marching 100, as world-renowned as it may be, is not too big to fail.

While the NCAA has no jurisdiction here, I can't help but think, in light of recent infractions in the sports world, how they would handle this. To me, the fact that this is a pervasive problem points exactly to the "lack of institutional control" that is typically a harbinger to a death knell for athletic programs. An article from 2007, when the problem raised its ugly head once again, speaks as though it was a culture that band members and those around them came to expect and even accept. The first article mentions that earlier this year, 30 band members were let go due to hazing incidents. While I can appreciate their attempt to clean house, the fact that has become painfully evident here is that this is not an isolated incident, nor is it limited to a few members going rogue. It seems to be deeply ingrained in the culture of the 100.

As if to hammer this point home, let's take a look at this case. The victim here was a drum major. While FAMU marches six this year, and Champion was not the head drum major, it is clear that drum majors are at the top of the totem pole. Not that hazing is ever right, but the typical model is that leaders in an organization haze younger members so that they "earn their place." That this reached into the highest ranks of the organization makes is clear that there is no end in sight, which is particularly troubling.

I know that with such a prominent organization, there is a desire to circle the wagons and protect the throne. That cannot and should not happen here. As great a marching unit the 100 may be, they cannot put the image of a program over the life of an individual. Here's hoping they do right by Mr. Champion, the reputation of the band and university, and all who will not have to follow in the weary 8-to-5 footsteps marched by so many. Not only the individuals responsible, but also the Marching 100 as a whole must be held accountable.
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