The roommate of Robert Champion, the Florida A&M University student who died during a hazing ritual for the school's marching band, spoke to HBO's "Real Sports" and discussed the band's hazings and his roommate's final words.
In an interview with Frank DeFord which aired Tuesday on HBO, Rikki Willis -- himself a band member and one of the 11 former students charged in Champion's death -- said that band members had to go through a gauntlet of other team members on a school bus, notoriously known as "Bus C." The beating would stop once the member being hazed reached the back of the bus.
"The percussion section in the band is the hardest section to control," Willis said. "First you start out at the beginning of the bus and they're doing what's called 'prepping,' and they hit you with their bare hands."
"Then you get sent on your way through the bus. You're at the front of the bus and you have to try and make your way to the back of the bus and people are punching, hitting."
Willis said that the hazed students were hit with hands, drumsticks and musical instruments, and that it personally took him about 15 minutes to make it through. But he said that he was treated with more respect following his hazing.
Champion, who died last fall, was allegedly a vocal critic of the hazing rituals, but he was also attempting to become the lead drum major in the band, known as the Marching 100.
"It's a respect thing, you know," one defendant told police. "Well, he was wanting to do it all ... all season."
According to Willis, Champion cried out in pain when the beating was over. "He was like, 'I can't breathe, can't breathe,' " "He said he couldn't see. ... He started saying, 'Oh Lord, Jesus, please help me. Please help me.' Those were probably the last words he said."
Champion died from internal bleeding and hemorrhaging after the beating.
The university has been reeling since his death. Last week, James Ammons, the university's president, resigned following a lawsuit filed by Champion's family and turmoil over financial woes plaguing the university. The band has since been suspended for at least a year.
Prior to Champion's death, a former dean at the school had urged for the band to be suspended for one game for hazing.
DeFord has covered hazing by black college marching bands for "Real Sports" in the past. "It didn't seem to make a ripple of difference," DeFord said after the beating. "I was horrified at what we found and what we showed, and it didn't seem to touch anybody. I was shocked."
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