The University of Texas has a long and proud football tradition but over the past 10 years that tradition has wilted into a revolving-door at the coaching position, underachievement on the field, and general discord among the Longhorns community over The Eyes of Texas, the school's traditional post-game song. Those seeking to move on from the tune, which is steeped in a distressing and retrograde past, have seen the movement grow, with perhaps the most public distancing coming this year after Texas' quadruple overtime loss to Oklahoma when quarterback Sam Ehlinger stood alone for the song while the rest of his teammates took to the locker room.
This predictably took the discourse to a new level, setting off a deluge of emails to UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell from alumni and donors with varying viewpoints — documents obtained by the Texas Tribune and synthesized today in a piece that highlights just how fractured a seemingly unified group of fans can be and sheds light on the unseen influence deep-pocketed donors can have on a program.
"From June to late October, over 70% of the nearly 300 people who emailed Hartzell’s office about "The Eyes" demanded the school keep playing it. Around 75 people in emails explicitly threatened to stop supporting the school financially, calling on the university to take a heavier hand with students and athletes they believed were disrespecting university tradition by protesting it."
That 70-30 split, depressing to say, actually feels more encouraging than what I would have conceived. Usually someone who is pissed off is more apt to write an email or even comment on something, so perhaps there are small signs of encouragement. But make no mistake. There was no shortage of vitriol.
""UT needs rich donors who love The Eyes of Texas more than they need one crop of irresponsible and uninformed students or faculty who won't do what they are paid to do," Steven Arnold, a retired administrative law judge and UT-Austin law school graduate, wrote to Hartzell. "
""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 another donor who graduated in 1986. Their name was also 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!""
It's arresting to read this dismissive racism in such stark terms. It's even more troubling to see a common theme emerge in the Tribune's reporting, which included reaching out to these emailers who almost universally stood by their comments.
New coach Steve Sarkisian now finds himself in the same position Tom Herman and Charlie Strong found themselves trying to negotiate. The debate will rage on. But it's instructive to remember a major motivating factor for those who want to keep the song.
The Eyes of Texas is obviously a uniquely Texas thing. Yet one need not take too far a logical walk to conclude that the fanbases of other programs likely harbor the same feelings toward Black student-athletes, only with less insistence everyone else knows about it. What must that feel like for players? What must it be like to make eye contact with a fan and know there's a significant chance they're dehumanizing you from behind a keyboard?
Through in the obvious influence boosters have in college athletics and it makes for an unstoppable force vs. immovable object situation in which one party is animated by some bleak and unpalatable vision.