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.”