Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger stood alone on the Cotton Bowl field and sang the “Eyes of Texas” school song, following the team’s 53-45 quadruple overtime loss to Oklahoma back in October. That single memorable moment raised serious concerns about what was going on behind the scenes at the University of Texas.
And now, months later, a new report reveals exactly what was happening at the time and it was ugly. Numerous alumni and school donors were angry over the abandonment of Ehlinger and the numerous discussions about the “Eyes of Texas” in the months prior, and threatened to pull financial support from the school unless the situation was addressed and more specifically, the song performed.
Texas Longhorns athletes request removing ‘Eyes of Texas’ song
Last summer, with tensions high following the death of George Floyd, then-Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman met with his staff and players to join the conversation on social justice issues. Many players and coaches marched from Royal-Memorial Stadium to the Texas state capitol, where numerous athletes spoke of their own challenging experiences.
Shortly after, multiple sports programs joined together and called on the university to act. The student-athletes requested the school rename campus buildings named after racist figures.
One of the other suggestions was replacing the school’s fight song, “The Eyes of Texas,” which was written in 1903 and originally sung and played at minstrel shows featuring performers in blackface. The title is also connected to a saying from Confederate Army Commander Robert E. Lee.
University keeps Eyes of Texas and Sam Ehlinger sings alone
In July, the university announced a set of diversity initiatives that included renaming the field to Campbell-Williams Field in honor of the school’s only two Heisman Trophy winners in Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. A statue would also be erected in the future of Julius Whittier, the first black football player to letter at Texas in 1970.
The university said the “Eyes of Texas” fight song would remain. Although the school later announced it was forming a committee with current and former athletes to examine the song and later share its findings with university officials.
During the first two games of the 2020 football season, the band didn’t perform the song. Instead, it was played on the PA system. However, it went unnoticed because there weren’t fans in the stands due to the pandemic.
The level of attention given to the brewing school song controversy dramatically increased on October 10 in Dallas when Sam Ehlinger stood on the field by himself following the team’s loss against the rival Oklahoma Sooners and sang the “Eyes of Texas” alone. It was a shocking visual and an indication of a divided locker room.
Alumni members outraged and threatened school
Sam Ehlinger singing the “Eyes of Texas” by himself on the Cotton Bowl field in October incensed hundreds of alumni and donors who fired off angry emails to school president Jay Hartzell, according to a new report in the Texas Tribune. Many of those financial contributors described the scene of an abandoned quarterback as “disgusting” and “disturbing.” That’s not all they had to say.
“My wife and I have given an endowment in excess of $1 million to athletics. This could very easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here,” wrote an anonymous donor. “Has everyone become oblivious of who supports athletics??”
According to the publication, based on public records requests, Hartzell received nearly 300 emails from June to October of last year, demanding the school keep the song. Of those, 75 threatened to stop supporting the school financially. Billionaire businessman and alumnus Bob Rowling, whose company owns Omni Hotels and previously owned Gold’s Gym, sent an email.
“I am not advising you or taking any position regarding this issue right now, other than to say ‘The Eyes’ needs to be our song,” Rowling wrote. “I AM wanting you to be aware of the ‘talk about town’ regarding UT. There are a lot of folks on this email chain who love UT and are in positions of influence.”
Another email was much more hostile in its tone.
“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 1986 graduate and donor whose name was redacted by the university. “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.”
The committee created last summer to examine the song’s history is expected to release its findings within days. Based on the responses from alumni and the original requests by the student-athletes, this debate is far from over.