The Texas Longhorns will continue to play “The Eyes of Texas” after football games throughout the season — even without the band present for Saturday’s matchup with Baylor — according to a Wednesday statement from university President Jay Hartzell.
The Daily Texan, the school’s student newspaper, reported this week that an internal survey indicates the school’s band is split on whether it should continue to play the traditional song, which has come under fire from activists who decry its early 20th-century minstrel show roots.
But the song, associated for decades with the pomp and pageantry of the school’s football program, stays, said Hartzell, whether the band plays it live or a recording is piped in. “While we would love the band to be with our fans at all our games, we never planned for them to perform live this Saturday.”
Hartzell and the school’s under-fire football coach Tom Herman are juggling the demands of student-athletes who see vestiges of racism in the Austin campus’ statues, building names and traditions against the reaction of the university’s vast and politically powerful alumni base, most of whom have a sentimental connection to the song in particular.
Former Longhorn greats Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams weighed in on the growing controversy this week, urging the school not to give up on “The Eyes.”
“I’m proud of that song,” Campbell told reporters. “I think there’s a lot of things that can be done other than that song in my opinion. I just believe ‘The Eyes of Texas’ stands for something.”
Williams echoed his fellow Heisman Trophy winner: “I think it’s important to understand our history and to understand where the song came from, but I think it’s more powerful to transform the meaning of the song and the definition of the song rather than trying to erase our history like it never existed,” Williams said.
This summer, pressure mounted on Texas to do away with the song as athletes from multiple sports released a statement requesting changes at the school. Among those: renaming certain buildings on campus and replacing “The Eyes of Texas” with “a new song without racist undertones.”
The statement also requested the university lift a requirement for athletes to sing the song.
“We knew this summer that, as we make our campus a more welcoming place, we would face many hard conversations,” Hartzell said in his statement. “I remain truly optimistic that we will find ways to join together around our song, which has been so positive for so many Longhorns over the past 120 years.”
“The Eyes of Texas” has come under scrutiny for its history in blackface minstrel shows. The song’s first verse is inspired by a phrase frequently used by Confederate commander Robert E. Lee: “The eyes of the South are upon you.”
Last week, athletic director Chris Del Conte said he expected players to remain on the field during the postgame playing of the alma mater.
“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,” Del Conte said.
Herman, though, said this week there’s no requirement for players to remain on the field for the song. There was “confusion,” Herman said, following Texas’ Oct. 10 loss to Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl, leading to quarterback Sam Ehlinger standing as one of the lone figures left on the field when the song began.
Ehlinger has since called the scene a “misunderstanding,” saying he stayed to talk with coaches and players. Still, Ehlinger said he stood to recognize the song because of his connection to it growing up a Longhorns fan from Austin.
“That perspective is that I grew up a Longhorn. I grew up singing The Eyes of Texas’ win, lose or draw,” he said, according to the Austin American-Stateman. “I shared that experience with my family. I shared that experience with my [late] dad, and never once singing that song has anything negative ever crossed my mind. It was always about paying respect to the university and the incredible tradition that the University of Texas has. I also feel a connection with my family and my dad singing that song because I grew up doing that. That’s why it’s important to me. All of my guys and all of my teammates understand that and they know my perspective.”
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