The Orlando Sun-Sentinel has published a fascinating, in-depth account of the pervasive culture of hazing inside Florida A&M University’s marching band that led to the death of drum major Robert Champion last November. Some people say what happened to Champion was bound to happen.
While members of the famed Rattlers marching band gather to hear admonitions and warnings against hazing from school officials (a ritual that is repeated every year), the threats have had limited effect. The cult of hazing, passed on from upperclassmen to freshmen, from abusers to the abused, who become the abusers, is persistent. And it depends on willing victims.
In the workshop, band members hear that hazing extends beyond physical abuse. It includes doing chores and running errands for upperclassmen; extorting money from freshmen; and demeaning and abusive language.
Marcus Fabre’, seated in the saxophone section, knows from experience the gap between what the adults say and what happens inside the band. He’s a 20-year-old sophomore who spent his freshman year refusing to be hazed and paying the price with ostracism. The upperclassmen used him as an example: If you don’t submit, you’ll end up alone, just like Marcus.
There are others inside the rehearsal hall for whom the anti-hazing warnings are hollow admonishments and empty threats. Some of them belong to small groups within the sections: clarinetists who call themselves the “Clones,” trumpet players who go by “Thunder,” and a group of students from Georgia called the “Red Dawg Order.”
They know hazing is banned but are determined to perpetuate it. Within six months, 26 of them will be suspended from performing at the Florida Classic football game in Orlando for hazing. Seven will be arrested.
In the final act of the hazing workshop, all band members sign a “hazing and harassment agreement” that acknowledges participating “as a hazer or hazee will immediately terminate my membership in the band.”
As one band member signs the pledge, he thinks: They’re going to do it anyway.
In another row, a freshman signs the document with little thought to the promise he’s making. “Nobody took it seriously,” he said.
That would become obvious within three short months as the band marched blindly toward tragedy.