The choice was theirs, the players were told. You wouldn’t be forced to stay on the field and sing after the games. The marching band even chose not to play it.
But then the Longhorns lost a major rivalry game and fans noted the absence of the players during The Eyes of Texas game. Cue the riot. Fans criticized players on social media. Alumni sent an avalanche of emails to administrators, including some inciting racist tropics. Large bag donors threatened to end their patronage.
Months later, the song remains a post-game tradition in Austin. And while school officials insist that athletes are not required to sing it, the pressure on them seems to stay here, too.
The President of the University of Texas, Jay Hartzell, who commissioned the report, had already promised to keep the song. He instructed the committee of faculty experts, students and archivists not to determine the fate of the tradition but to uncover its history, he told reporters. If the committee discovered new and harmful information about “The Eyes of Texas,” it might have reconsidered, he said. But it wasn’t like that.
No athletes, cheerleaders or band members will be punished for not singing or performing “The Eyes of Texas,” Hartzell said. “Nobody was or will be obliged to sing the song,” he said.
However, he hoped the report would encourage students to find ways to partake in the school tradition. This includes the most studied group involved in the debate: soccer players.
“We hope people read the facts as they go through the report to find ways to get involved in any way,” Hartzell said. “But there will be no punishment, no mandate, no requirement if people choose not to participate.”
However, there will likely be a backlash for players who don’t and more frustration for players who feel the pressure to sing.
“I signed up to play soccer, not … [to] sing a song at the end of the game, ”said a recent Texas soccer player, who spoke on condition of anonymity and feared retaliation from the team. “That’s not what I signed up for.”
Red River controversy
The song became a hot spot in June when several soccer players shared a letter on social media calling for changes on behalf of campus athletes. The list included renaming buildings and adding statues of various longhorns. The final task was for the school to replace “The Eyes of Texas” with a new song with no “racist undertones”.
According to the current soccer player, Herman allowed the players to express themselves on the song and other racial injustice matters during a summer team meeting. Among his college coaches, Herman was one of the first to make a statement after George Floyd died in police custody. He left the decision of whether to sing the song in the hands of his team, the player said.
At the beginning of last season, several players left the field before the song was played after games against UTEP and TCU. Then, on October 10th, Texas lost its annual rivalry game, the Red River Showdown, to Oklahoma. A picture of Senior Sam Ehlinger, the team’s white quarterback, went viral and appeared to be standing alone while giving the “Hook ’em Horns” hand signal during the alma mater. Many in the fan base burst into anger.
Former Longhorns defense attorney Caden Sterns, who spoke about the song last season, said he had heard of alumni threats that if he didn’t sing, he would have to find work outside of Texas. “I’ve already received so much BS as part of this whole thing you can say,” Sterns said in a recent interview.
Sterns described Texas as his “dream school,” but declared himself in favor of the NFL draft after its 2020 junior season. He said the controversy took into account his decision to leave school early.
“It was partly honest,” he said. “I knew for a fact that I wasn’t going to go back to Texas.”
The fans have brought their complaints to the fore too. University administrators were inundated with emails after the game in Oklahoma, many of which were received from the Austin American-Statesman.
“Get rid of the players before you get rid of the song,” wrote one donor, whose name has been edited. “If you give in, it will never end, they will just ask for something else. … If the university agrees to blackmail our student athletes and stop playing the Eyes of Texas; I will never again give a dollar in donations to the sports department or school I love. “
“The players on this team … are low-character thugs who steal from university and embarrass former students who love UT,” Hartzell emailed another alum, whose name has also been edited.
In another email, the women’s volleyball team was singled out.
“If your girls don’t want to sing the Eyes of Texas, tell them to take their bum off the seat so we can sing it with pride and not be disgusted by their somber gathering,” wrote one person posing as one Season of the year identified ticket holders.
The Longhorns soccer player, who said he believed the song’s origins were racist, said there was another team meeting following the backlash from the game in Oklahoma. This time, Herman and the school’s sports director Chris Del Conte chaired the session.
“We’re starting to lose, his job is at stake: Okay, now you have to stand. Now you have to stay out there, ”the player said in an interview last month. “Now Del Conte says we have to stay out there because it divides our fan base. This is what we were told: we had to stand out there because it divides our fan base.
“Okay, it sounds to me like they are threatening your money,” the player continued, “because just before the season you said we don’t have to be out there, but now we have to be out there.” We have to stay in the field before the song is over. “
“A Better Set of Facts”
In the report released Tuesday, the Eyes of Texas History Committee confirmed well-known facts about the song’s origin. It dates back to 1902 when two students were composing the lyrics to satirize a phrase often used by William Prather, then president of the university.
A version of historical events that once appeared on the official Texas alumni website reported that Prather had adopted and revised Lee’s phrase (“the eyes of the south are on you”), but the committee found no direct link between Prather’s line and Lee’s.
The report also confirmed the song, which debuted on a show where singers appeared in black script on May 12, 1903 – a painful and uncomfortable reality of the time, members of the history committee admitted. Still, the committee concluded that it is likely that the quartet removed the blackface makeup before the song was performed, as the lyrics of “The Eyes of Texas” weren’t meant to be laughable.
“Research suggests that The Eyes of Texas’ intent was not overtly racist,” the committee wrote. “However, it is similarly clear that the cultural milieu that produced it was it.”
Hartzell hopes the report will help change people’s minds on campus – and in the Longhorns’ dressing room. He said he planned to meet with the soccer team on Tuesday to discuss the report.
“There will be an ongoing series of talks and I know that for groups like the band those discussions will continue,” Hartzell said. ”