A roommate of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, who died last year following a hazing ritual from other band members, told HBO's Real Sports how Champion was literally beaten to death in the back of the band's bus.
Rikki Wills, Champion's former roommate, spoke about what happened last November that led to Champion's death. Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel debuts on HBO Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT. CBSSports.com obtained an advance copy of the segment reported by Real Sports correspondent Frank Deford.
Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges and two others face misdemeanor counts for alleged roles in Champion's hazing. Wills is one of the 13 charged and the first defendant to speak publicly about the incident, according to HBO. He said he tried to protect Champion during the hazing.
The band's initiation is called “Crossing Bus C” and took place on the band's bus after an FAMU football game behind the band's hotel in Orlando, Fla., Wills told Deford.
Before Champion participated in the hazing ritual, which requires a member to walk from the front to the back of the bus while getting hit and beat by "about two dozen" band members Wills said he asked Champion if he wanted to do it.
Wills said Champion told him "I want to get it over with. I just want to do it."
"They were hitting him hard: haymakers, kidney shots," Wills said. "They had percussion sticks, I saw belts. He's just sitting there like a sitting duck. He was like 'I can't breathe, can't breathe. Need air, need air.' And then he started complaining. He said 'I can't see; can't see.'
"He [Champion] said he couldn't see. His eyes were wide open. He was looking at us. He said he couldn't see. He started jerking in and out. He was like [panting], you know trying to gasp for air. He started saying 'Oh, Lord, Jesus, please help me. Please help me.' Those were probably the last words he said. He started panicking again and he just kind of passed out."
Champion had bruises on his chest, arms, shoulder and back and died Nov. 19, 2011 from internal bleeding, specifically "hemorrhagic shock due to soft tissue hemorrhage, due to blunt force trauma," the Orange County, Fla., medical examiner reported. Champion was 26. Witnesses told emergency dispatchers the drum major was vomiting before he was found unresponsive aboard the bus.
"We kept telling ourselves 'Rob's gonna be all right. It's big Rob, you know?' " Wills said. "And it was about an hour later, where we received a phone call and, you know, they said that, you know, he had passed. We all kind of just broke down."
In November 2010, Real Sports' Deford initially reported extensively on the violent and hidden world of hazing in black college bands. In his current report, Deford also spoke with band members at Southern University and Alabama A&M about the hazing rituals along with Rev. R.B. Holmes, FAMU's former Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
Despite at least three reported cases of physical hazing by FAMU band members since 2004, Holmes claims the school doesn't condone hazing. FAMU President James Ammons resigned Wednesday and the Rattlers' Marching 100 band has been suspended from performing this fall.