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FAMU scandal is no Penn State

C. Stiles

Luther Campbell, the man whose booty-shaking madness made the U.S. Supreme Court stand up for free speech, gets as nasty as he wants to be for Miami New Times. This week, Campbell comes to the defense of Florida's largest historically African-American university, which has been caught up in a deadly hazing scandal.

This past weekend, the St. Petersburg Times published a lengthy article in which experts suggested Florida A&M University shut down its storied Marching 100 band in the wake of the November 19 death of Robert Champion. The drum major allegedly died after receiving blows during a hazing ritual. The story quoted Walter Kimbrough, hazing expert and president of Philander Smith College in Arkansas, this way: "Your chances of having a marching band hazing incident are zero if you don't have a functioning marching band." That's absolute BS.

This all is tragic, and law enforcement should investigate and criminally charge anyone involved in the young man's death. But let's be real here. Hazing goes on whenever you are part of a secret society or an organization. And it's not just fraternities and sororities. Fire and police department rookies are hazed all the time. In Major League Baseball, veterans constantly play jokes on younger players such as throwing pies in their faces or making them dress up like women.

The FAMU problems could have happened on any college campus. But because we're talking about the storied college band from one of the nation's best-known black colleges, the media wants to paint FAMU as an institution lacking control. It's totally unfair.

FAMU's scandal is unlike those at Penn State and Syracuse, in which legendary coaches Joe Paterno and Jim Boeheim, along with administrators, turned a blind eye to the sexual predators in their midst. FAMU's longtime band director, Julian White, cracked down on hazing. He did what Paterno and Boeheim wouldn't do. White dismissed more than 100 band members who participated in hazing and many times canceled scholarships. Four others were expelled. Unfortunately, FAMU fired White, making him a scapegoat.

People want to crucify FAMU now and forget all the school's great accomplishments, such as playing at three presidential inaugurations and five Super Bowls, as well as representing the United States in Paris for France's 200-year Bastille Day celebration. There is no doubt Champion should not have been hazed. But White fought hard to stop that.

If the Marching 100 disappears, future generations of talented African-American musicians won't get the chance to play. That would be a shame.


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