Monday, May 14, 2012

FAMU’s Band Culture Tarnishes Marching 100’s Legacy

By Mark F. Gray
Those who are part of the Florida A&M “Rattler Nation” will tell you there are more followers of the band than there is for the football team.  The last time I checked, however, there are no trombone players in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.  There is nobody from the percussion section who has won an Olympic gold medal either.  And for the record, the Marching 100 has never won a national championship.
Nonetheless, FAMU band has succeeded in doing something the football team has never done: murdering one of its own and being suspended for a year.
Its shameful that it took the death of Robert Champion for the dysfunctional world that is Black College band culture to be exposed.  Perhaps even more shameful is that it took the university six months and 13 indictments before they pulled the plug on an entire season.
For perspective, what happened with the Florida A&M Marching 100 is the musical version of SMU getting the death penalty.  It is USC or Ohio State being ineligible for post season. With the death of Champion, and plausible cover up, it’s the Baylor basketball program under Dave Bliss.
The absence of accountability with the FAMU band speaks to an arrogant subculture personified by the movie “Drumline” with HBCU bands.  The episodes of hazing and violence gave credence to what it takes to perform a halftime show or in the stands between plays.  It gave credibility to the battle of the bands concept stepping across the boundary of physical confrontation between musical groups from different schools by glorifying violence and social dysfunction. As long as they were making money the whispers of what was going on went unheard.
What good comes from a beat down of a prospective drum major that costs his life? Apparently there was a rite of passage that Champion had to endure if he were to be given the title of drum major.  The pressure of his sexuality being questioned may have led to his taking fatal punishment from his peers as he had been conditioned to believe that it would have earned him more respect from them. It was a climate of deviance sanctioned by everyone associated with the band, even those who knew but kept quiet.
The trouble is that in this case 11 of the 13 indictments in Champion’s death were charged to musicians who weren’t enrolled in school.  This is a catastrophic absence of supervision from the music department and throughout the institution.  The negligence is irrefutable as Champion’s death proves that administrators on every level were not in tune.
It goes to prove that at FAMU the band was as powerful as Bobby Bowden was across town when he was head football coach at Florida State. Bowden’s players may have been guilty of shoplifting or abusing parking passes but none were ever charged in a murder.
Student athletes are required to meet a series of criteria to qualify and compete.  They are monitored and can be dismissed if they don’t maintain academic progress to remain eligible. There are compliance officials who police everything from grades to gifts.
But where is the monitoring of the band? With one third of their band not enrolled in classes, we know how the 350 piece marching contingent at Florida A&M got their nickname “Marching 100”.
The thought of covering the John Merritt, Atlanta, or Florida Classic this year without seeing the Rattler band is a sobering thought.  A piece of African Americana will be absent this fall and a legacy has been tarnished forever.  To think this kind of behavior is just relegated to FAMU’s band is ludicrous. If you believe the same thing that happened to Robert Champion couldn’t happen at another school you’re living in a different world.