Robert Champion dreamed of two things: Attending Florida A&M and marching in the school’s famous band.
But his parents say those dreams were taken from him when he was beaten to death by fellow band members in a hazing ritual last November. Speaking with their attorney at a news conference in Atlanta Thursday, the Champions said they’re disappointed in the university’s attempt this week to have a lawsuit thrown out.
“The school let us down. They let my son down. They let my family down,” Robert Champion Sr. said Thursday. “Now, they’re letting the school down to say that they didn’t have any involvement in my son’s death when they should say ‘We dropped the ball.’ “
In documents filed Monday, FAMU said the drum major caused his own death because he knew the dangers of hazing when he joined the band. A 26-year-old adult, Champion could have refused to participate in the hazing and instead reported it to university officials and law enforcement, the university contends.
“There was no choice of whether to be hazed or not,” Christopher Chestnut, the Champions’ attorney, said Thursday. “There was a choice of whether to succeed or not. And there was a sacrifice you had to make. And if you failed in that sacrifice, well now you’re on your own.”
Champion’s parents have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the university and vowed to continue fighting for a change in the culture of hazing, Chestnut said Thursday. The suit, initially filed in February, cited a charter bus company and bus driver as being at fault for the beating, which happened on a bus outside an Orlando hotel. In July, the lawsuit was amended to include FAMU as a defendant.
“Robert Champion can’t be a drum major this season, that was taken from him,” Chestnut said. “But he can be a drum major for justice now. This isn’t about money, this is about a cause.”
On the same day the university was added to the Champions’ lawsuit, FAMU President James Ammons announced his retirement. A dozen former band members have been charged with felony hazing in the death of Champion, who attended Southwest DeKalb High School.
Additionally, the band was suspended after Champion’s death. Saturday night’s home opener football game will be the first without the Marching 100.
Until the university ends the hazing rituals, there’s no need for a band to take the field, Pamela Champion, Robert Champion’s mother, said.
“The safety of every student should be the first priority,” Pamela Champion she said. “Every student has an opportunity to say, ‘no more.’”