He added in Tuesday’s remarks that there might be conversations with players, but said, “That’s our song and we’re fired up to sing it.”
Over the summer a group of Texas football players, backed by some students, included the removal “The Eyes of Texas” as the school song on a list of requests intended to make the school “more comfortable and inclusive for the Black athletes and the Black community that has so fervently supported this program.” The song, which is based on the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” was adopted by the university in the early 1900s and has a long history in minstrel shows in which White people performed in blackface.
Going back further, the lyrics were inspired in part by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who after the Civil War was a teacher at what would become Washington and Lee University, where he made an impression on future University of Texas president William Prather by repeatedly telling students that “the eyes of the South are upon you.”
University President Jay Hartzell in July announced measures meant to “recruit, attract, retain and support Black students” including renaming some campus buildings; erecting a statue honoring Julius Whittier, the school’s first Black football player; and renaming the football stadium’s field in honor of former Longhorns running backs Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. But Hartzell said he preferred that “The Eyes of Texas” continue to be sung at events “with a redefined vision that unites our community.”
In October, Hartzell created a committee to research the song’s history and recommend how to use it going forward. That month, after Longhorns football players did not join in the traditional singing of the song after the team’s first two home games, Athletic Director Chris Del Conte said he expected school-sponsored teams to “show appreciation for our university, fans, and supporters by standing together as a unified group for ‘The Eyes,’ while we work through this issue.”
Tom Herman, the football coach at the time, encouraged players and staff to participate but that he would respect the choice of those who didn’t. Herman was fired Jan. 2 after compiling a 32-18 record and failing to win a Big 12 championship over four seasons. Sarkisian’s hiring was announced hours later.