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Parents say Florida hazing victim Robert Champion was gay

Jan. 10, 2012 at 2:55 PM

ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Law enforcement officials investigating the beating death of a Florida A&M drum major may have to decide if it was hazing or possibly a hate crime.

Twenty-six-year-old Robert Champion was found unresponsive on the team bus in November after the Florida Classic football game in Orlando and later died. Police ruled the death a homicide.

Champion's parents Tuesday said while they don't think Champion was beaten just because of his sexual orientation they plan to sue Florida A&M, which their lawyer, Christopher Chestnut, said "has a 50-year history, a culture in this band, of hazing," WTVT-TV, Tampa, Fla., reported Tuesday.

"This is not a hate crime. This is a hazing crime. That is what we're here to say," Chestnut told a news conference.

Champion's parents also plan to file a lawsuit against the owner of the team bus, Fabulous Coach Lines.

The owner of the bus company said his staff got help to Champion as soon as they knew there was a problem.

Earlier Tuesday, a lawyer representing FAMU band director Dr. Julian White called the fatal beating a hate crime.

"Assuming that the assertions of the Champion family and their attorney Chris Chestnut are true, then it is entirely possible that Champion's tragic death was less about any ritualistic hazing and more tantamount to a hateful and fully conscious attempt to batter a young man because of his sexual orientation," attorney Chris Hobbs said in a statement.

Champion's parents said their goal is the halt any further hazing at Florida A&M.

"Our goal is not to shut down any school. Our goal is not to stop the music. Our goal is to stop the hazing," Pam Champion said during an appearance on CBS's "This Morning."

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