Following what has been going on with the University of Texas football team and its theme song “The Eyes of Texas” has been a remarkable window into the worst of college football.
University of Texas athletic officials in October told Longhorn football players they had to remain on the field postgame for “The Eyes of Texas” singalong with fans because donors were upset by athletes protesting the game day tradition, two Longhorn football players told The Texas Tribune.
Previously, some student athletes had chosen not to participate after multiple games, as the song had become a flashpoint over the summer — especially for Black student athletes — given the alma mater song’s historical ties to campus minstrel shows.
The football players said athletics officials, in a meeting with the players after the Oklahoma game, referenced emails from donors who said the protests could impact their job prospects after graduating. At least one other player, former defensive back Caden Sterns, made a similar claim in a tweet on Monday but declined to be interviewed.
Sterns, the former defensive back, tweeted Monday that donors had threatened players’ future job prospects.
“My teammates and I got threatened by some alumni that we would have to find jobs outside of Texas if we didn’t participate,” he wrote.
His tweet was a response to a Tribune article that revealed at least 75 alumni and donors sent emails to UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell threatening to pull financial support if the university got rid of the “Eyes of Texas.”
The song has been the center of a firestorm since last summer, when athletes and students called on the school to stop singing it after games. The song — played to the tune of “I’ve been working on the railroad” — was historically performed at campus minstrel shows, and the title is linked to a saying from Confederate Army Commander Robert E. Lee.
“The pictures I am seeing on social media of Sam Ehlinger standing alone after the game with his horns up to the fight song has sickened me,” one person who identified as a 25-year season ticket holder wrote to Hartzell. Their name was redacted by UT-Austin, citing open records laws that protect certain donor identities.
“These young men came to the university knowing fully well what was expected of them…..one of these things has ALWAYS been to respect the university and its traditions. Love it or leave it. How dare they accept scholarships and disrespect this university with their pettiness…”
Multiple emails sent to the president from June to late October insisted university officials penalize students who broke tradition.
“You tell those ‘students’ who don’t want to play, they are out of the band and let the others play,” wrote Linden R. Welsch, class of 1969, to Hartzell after it was announced the Longhorn Band wouldn’t play the alma mater after the football game against Baylor University. “This is the same problem you have with the football team. You have let the inmates run the asylum. You let political correctness/ social justice or whatever take over and have lost control. It is stupid and demonstrates a total lack of leadership.”
Welsch, who The Alcalde alumni magazine calls a “Life Member” university donor, told the Tribune the email summed up his concerns and he did not have any additional comments.
“It’s time for you to put the foot down and make it perfectly clear that the heritage of Texas will not be lost,” wrote a donor who graduated in 1986. Their name was redacted by UT-Austin. “It is sad that it is offending the blacks. As I said before the blacks are free and it’s time for them to move on to another state where everything is in their favor.”
“Less than 6% of our current student body is black,” wrote Larry Wilkinson, a donor who graduated in 1970, quoting a statistic UT-Austin officials have stated they’re working to improve. “The tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog….. and the dog must instead stand up for what is right. Nothing forces those students to attend UT Austin. Encourage them to select an alternate school ….NOW!”
The college football booster class is…..Trumpism at its most condensed. These really are the worst people, wealthy whites who see these players–mostly Black of course–as THEIR players who are there to win, not for themselves, but for the boosters. The boosters are the university and they don’t care about anything else. Back when Chip Kelly was changing college football at Oregon, the boosters hated him even though the team was winning 11 games every year. Why? Because he told them he had a football game to prepare for rather than talk to them. They would rather see the team do badly so long as they get their piece and it all goes according to plan, including players not complaining. The whole system is just gross.