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HBO: The life-shattering hits that killed Robert Champion on the band bus. His roommate Rikki Wills talks

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Excerpt:
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.”

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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