Oklahoma football: Lamenting the demise of the Florida A&M band and the day the music died

COMMENTARY — The horrific hazing of the Florida A&M drum major last year continues to ripple. Some Oklahoma football fans may not know what they're missing this Saturday, but Oklahoma City's Kevin Cox does.
by Jenni Carlson Published: September 5, 2012

NORMAN — You have no idea what you'll be missing, Sooner fans.

But Kevin Cox does.

He is a Florida A&M alum, the proudest you'll find in our fair state. Ever since playing football and running track there in the 60s, the Oklahoma City native has loved that school. He has given money. He has offered support. He was even asked to give the homecoming address a few years ago.

So, when it was announced that Florida A&M was coming Oklahoma, Cox nearly burst.

He was excited not only because of the football team but also because of the marching band.

“Boy,” he said, “the band was going to lead the way.”

But the FAMU band won't be playing Saturday in Norman or any other Saturday this season. School officials suspended the band earlier this year after the hazing death of a drum major. The incident created a firestorm that is still burning — the dance team was suspended Tuesday after allegations of a hazing incident over the Labor Day weekend — leaving many to wonder when the band will be able to resume activities.

The scandal has marred not only the band but also the school.

“Our band is the best,” Cox said. “I'm not saying that as a biased alum. It is the best.”

The Marching 100 — a nickname that belies the true size of the 400-plus piece force — has become one of the best known bands in the land. They do precision formations. They play all sorts of music. They dance. They strut.

If you haven't seen them, do yourself a favor and find one of their performances on YouTube.

“It's a sight to see,” said Sooner safety Tony Jefferson, who has family ties in Florida and saw the Marching 100 perform several times as a kid. “We always used to go just for the band.”

It has marched at Super Bowls. It has performed at presidential inaugurations. But last fall, it faced its darkest hour when a hazing ritual killed drum major Robert Champion.

The band was in Orlando for the football game against Bethune-Cookman, and according to another drum major, Champion decided to subject himself to a hazing ritual in an attempt to gain respect from his bandmates.

He agreed to “cross Bus C.”

That is the bus used by the percussionists, the band's largest and reportedly rowdiest group, and for someone to “cross” their bus, that person must get from the front to the back while the percussionists do everything in their power to stop them. They punch. They kick. They even wield drum sticks and mallets.

Champion eventually made it to the back of the bus that night in Orlando, but later, the 26-year-old collapsed and died.

Official cause of death: hemorrhagic shock from blunt force trauma.

The headlines were ugly, and the criticisms were plentiful. Rightfully so. The university suspended the band immediately after Champion's death, then a few months later decided to extend the suspension until at least next spring.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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