“I have had many conversations with our head coaches outlining my expectations that our teams show appreciation for our university, fans, and supporters by standing together as a unified group for ‘The Eyes,’ while we work through this issue,” Chris Del Conte said Wednesday (via the Associated Press).
Del Conte did not indicate what would happen if players refused.
Coach Tom Herman on Monday encouraged players to join in singing the song but would respect the choice of those who don’t.
“I’ve encouraged our staff and team to join me in participating after games if they are comfortable doing that,” Herman said. “I do believe it’s important that we acknowledge and thank our fans after a hard-fought game. … That said, some members of our program have concerns and aren’t comfortable participating at this time. I respect that as well. This is an issue we will continue to have meaningful conversations about and will work through.”
Over the summer, some football players requested that the song, frequently performed by musicians in blackface decades ago, be replaced by “a new song without racist undertones,” but the university president it would continue to be used at football games and other events.
Jay Hartzell, the interim president, outlined steps UT would take to “recruit, attract, retain and support Black students,” but said in a statement that he preferred to “acknowledge and teach about all aspects of the origins of ‘The Eyes of Texas’ as we continue to sing it moving forward with a redefined vision that unites our community.”
Players did not join in the traditional singing of the song after the Longhorns’ first two home games. The topic arose again this week after quarterback Sam Ehlinger remained on the field at the Cotton Bowl for the playing of the song while most of the team headed for the locker room after the loss to Oklahoma.
“Like all families who see the world through different lenses, we have plenty of work to do on this subject and will continue to do so,” Del Conte said, “but rest assured, our student-athletes love and respect this university very much and are competing their hearts out for it.”
The lyrics to “The Eyes of Texas” 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 UT president William Prather by repeatedly telling students that “the eyes of the South are upon you.”
The Washington Post’s Des Bieler wrote over the summer that Edmund T. Gordon, a professor of African and African diaspora studies and anthropology at Texas, said (via Texas Monthly) that Prather reminded his own students that “the eyes of Texas are upon you,” inspiring a pair of UT students in 1903. Their song debuted it at an annual campus minstrel show, according to Gordon, who said the students probably were wearing blackface when they performed it.
The melody is based on “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” which has its own origins in minstrelsy and other stereotypical depictions of Black people.
In June, football players called for the song to be removed and asked that the university rename four campus buildings. In a statement tweeted by multiple Texas players, they said they would not participate in recruiting or donor-related events until the university commits to the changes. The statement from the football players asks other athletes on campus “to stand with us.”
Players also asked that the athletic department create a Black athletic history exhibit in the Hall of Fame and rename an area of Darrell K Royal — Texas Memorial Stadium for Julius Whittier, the first Black football player at the school. They also requested more diverse campus statues designed by artists of color, educational programs for incoming freshmen about the campus’ history of racism and inner-city outreach programs in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
“Here at the University of Texas, we live by the saying, ‘What starts here changes the world,’ ” the statement said. “The role of a student athlete at The University of Texas brings with it responsibilities beyond that of the average student. We are expected to serve as ambassadors for the university, our respective programs, the student body, and at times, the entire State of Texas. As ambassadors, it is our duty to utilize our voice and role as leaders in the community to push for change to the benefit of the entire UT community.”