Image: YouTube (Elite Sports Network)

Brandon Adams was going to be a star.

Before he was recruited to play college football at Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, he acted in high school plays. He was a three-sport athlete (wrestling, football, and track and field) at the famed Brentwood Academy in Brentwood, Tenn., earning a total of four state titles. While at Georgia Tech, he played in 33 games and was expected to dominate as a senior during the upcoming season. On Friday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution named the 21-year-old as one of its “players to watch.”

By Sunday, Brandon Adams was dead.

Police officials told The Root that Adams’ friends brought the six-foot-two, 325-pound lineman to Atlanta’s Emory University hospital, around 1 a.m. on Sunday morning after he collapsed at a townhome nearby. According to WSB-TV, investigators say preliminary autopsy results were inconclusive but revealed “no foul play.”

Offering his condolences, Georgia Tech’s head football coach Geoff Collins said: “Our entire Georgia Tech football family is heartbroken by the news of Brandon’s passing. In the short time that I have had the privilege and honor of knowing Brandon, I admired and respected him, first and foremost as a terrific human being, but also as an outstanding teammate and leader.”

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“He was a big guy, but he had a heart as big as all outdoors,” said Adams’ former coach to the Journal-Constitution. “He’s going to really be missed.”

“On behalf of The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., we are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of life concerning Brandon Adams,” read a statement from Omega Psi Fraternity, adding that they are offering grief counseling to Adams’ family. (For transparency’s sake, you should know that I was initiated into Omega Psi Phi Fraternity as an undergraduate and am familiar with many of the individuals and processes in this story.)

Adams was not a member of Omega Psi Phi. Yet, out of the blue, the fraternity did something I have never witnessed in the 27 years since my initiation. On Tuesday, seemingly unsolicited and out of the blue, the fraternity released a statement acknowledging that Adams was a candidate to become a “man of Omega.”

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But that is not the first strange part of this story.

On Sunday, a scant few hours after the death of Brandon Adams, tens of thousands of Omegas in more than 700 chapters in the United States, Bermuda, Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Korea, Japan, Liberia, Germany, and Kuwait received a letter from Omega Psi Phi’s Grand Basileus (essentially, their national president) David E. Marion, declaring a halt to the international organization’s membership selection and all social activities. In a stunning move, the fraternity’s national board had basically stopped all fraternity activity, except for a few rare circumstances.

In the letter obtained by The Root, Marion said the moratorium was part of his duties as national president to protect the fraternity “at any cost.”

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Image: Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.

Per the fraternity’s website, candidates for Omega Psi Phi must have a 2.5 grade point average at an accredited university, be sponsored by a member of the fraternity at the school they attend and are required to submit a medical consent and release form before they are invited into the Membership Selection Process (MSP) that Adams was part of. While the fraternity has outlawed “pledging,” potential members are allowed to meet during official, supervised MSP meetings.

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Omega Psi Phi’s policy also “strictly prohibits and expressly denounces the practice of hazing” during this process, defining it as:

any reckless or intentional action taken or any situation created which produces mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule. Such activities and situations include, but are not limited to paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; creating or inflicting physical and/or psychological shocks; conducting quests, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, road trips or any other such activities carried on outside the confines of a house/domicile; public wearing of any apparel or paraphernalia which is conspicuous, not normally in good taste or otherwise banned; engaging in public stunts and buffoonery; morally degrading or humiliating an individual(s) through words or deeds; conducting late (after established hours) sessions which interfere with or prohibit the pursuit of scholastic attainment or productive work; and the conduct of any activities, express or implied, which are not consistent with the Cardinal Principles espoused by the Fraternity or academic missions of the colleges or universities where chapters of the Fraternity may exist. The express or implied consent of a person to any such actions shall not be considered as an exception to this policy and is not defensible as a violation thereof. [emphasis theirs]

These policies are enforced by MSP chairmen, usually older members, who are responsible for, among other things, supervising the process and enforcing the rules. The fraternity’s website says the MSP chairman for Georgia Tech’s chapter (Delta Kappa) was Trenton Merideth. Part of Merideth’s duties include attending every MSP meeting by the potential candidates.

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But according to information obtained by The Root, on the evening of Brandon Adam’s death, the football star was reportedly with other potential Omega Psi Phi candidates at a meeting that appears to have either been unsupervised by the MSP chairman or unauthorized by the policies of the membership selection process.

When The Root reached out to Merideth, our phone calls and emails went unanswered. The Root attempted to contact the representative in charge of the Omega Psi Phi district that includes Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Alabama, but he notified us—through another fraternity official—that only the Grand Basileus or the fraternity’s Grand Counsel—attorney Ben Crump—were authorized to make a statement. Neither has responded to the Root’s requests to give their side of the story.

Tragedies like these are not uncommon in the world of black fraternities and sororities.

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  • Delaware State student Marlon Jackson, a candidate for Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, died on March 1. According to Jackson’s parents, the accident that killed him and left three others injured may have happened because the 23-year old was fatigued and sleep deprived while pledging.
  • In December, two men were charged with assault and hazing after a candidate for Brooklyn, N.Y.’s graduate chapter of Omega Psi Phi wound up in the hospital, according to the New York Post. The 45-year-old alleged victim told authorities that he had been paddled more than 200 times.
  • 20-year-old UC Riverside student Tyler Hilliard died in September 2018 while pledging another black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, in September 2018.
  • In January, the parents of Northwestern University basketball player Jordan Hankins filed a lawsuit against Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority alleging that “physical abuse...paddling, verbal abuse, mental abuse, financial exploitation, sleep deprivation, items being thrown and dumped on her, and other forms of hazing intended to humiliate and demean her” triggered post-traumatic stress disorder in the sophomore, causing her to commit suicide.

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This may not be what happened to Adams. Authorities say they are waiting for toxicology results, performing more lab tests and interviewing witnesses. Everyone who knew Brandon Adams seemed to like him. Everyone who liked him knew that he definitely was going to be a star.

But suddenly, no one knows what happened to Brandon Adams.

Suddenly, Brandon Adams is dead.