University of Texas president Jay Hartzell responded on Tuesday to a report in The Texas Tribune featuring emails sent to the school by boosters angry that football players were refusing to follow tradition by singing “The Eyes of Texas” after games.
The Tribune said that, of more than 300 emails sent to Hartzell between June and October, 70% demanded the school keep playing the song and about 75 emails included threats of financial retribution by donors if players didn’t support the tradition.
“My wife and I have given an endowment in excess of $1 million to athletics,” read one, by a booster whose name was redacted. “This could very easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here.”
The alma mater, which gets played before and after every Longhorns football game, has come under scrutiny in recent years because it was first performed in a 1903 minstrel show that featured blackface performances. Several Longhorns players said last season that they would not sing it but later agreed to stay on the field while it was being played after quarterback Sam Ehlinger was captured in photographs as the only player remaining on the field when the song played after a loss to Oklahoma in October.
The Tribune reported that several messages said Black players who take issue with the history of the song should leave UT.
“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 whose name was redacted. “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.”
“People who target our students with hateful views do not represent the values of the Longhorn community,” Hartzell said in a statement Tuesday. “A few extremist views in the sample of emails the Texas Tribune reported on do not speak for the 540,000 proud Longhorn alumni who actively support our students and university. Out of the many emails I received this fall, a very small number included comments that were truly abhorrent and hateful. I categorically reject them, and they bear no influence on any aspect of our decision-making.”
Hartzell said last fall that the song will remain.
“‘The Eyes of Texas,’ in its current form, will continue to be our alma mater,” Hartzell said. “Aspects of its origin, whether previously widely known or unknown, have created a rift in how the song is understood and celebrated, and that must be fixed.”
Part of that plan to “fix” the understanding was the creation of a committee to study the song’s history. Hartzell said Tuesday that the report would be released next week.
“The fact that we don’t all agree on our school song doesn’t mean that we don’t all belong,” he said. “Next week, the Eyes of Texas History Committee will release its report. Equipped with a common set of facts, we will then continue the conversation about our song.”
At his introductory news conference Jan. 12, new football coach Steve Sarkisian addressed his stance on the issue.
“I know this much,” Sarkisian said, “‘The Eyes of Texas’ is our school song. We’re going to sing that song. We’re going to sing that proudly.”