The weekly Forty Acres Insider post from Texas Longhorns athletics director Chris Del Conte addressed the controversy that has arguably received more attention this week than Saturday’s loss to the Oklahoma Sooners that dropped Texas to 2-2 on the season — the scene of senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger standing alone on the Cotton Bowl field singing “The Eyes of Texas.”
A frustrated fanbase viewed the scene as an apparent sign that the football program lacks unity and widely connected it to recent issues on the field.
During the summer, football players, along with other athletes, began speaking out about racial injustice and formally requested that the school remove The Eyes of Texas as the alma mater and not force players to remain on the field to sing it, among other requests. President Jay Hartzell subsequently released a plan to address some of the athlete’s concerns, but committed to keeping The Eyes of Texas as the alma mater.
In a meeting with football players following their requests, Del Conte told them that they were no longer required to stay on the field for the alma mater after games. Junior safety Caden Sterns later publicly indicated that he did not plan on continuing to sing The Eyes of Texas.
This week, however, Del Conte reversed course as he addressed the controversy.
“Many of your questions have been about our student-athletes and the confusion about why they have not remained on the field for ‘The Eyes of Texas’ after the games,” Del Conte wrote. “I, like so many of you, view the song with pride and sing loudly and proudly in honor of the efforts of those who represent and support this phenomenal institution.”
Del Conte then acknowledged that some athletes continue to have concerns about the song’s history before walking back what he told athletes over the summer.
“I do want to clarify that 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.
The statement by Del Conte took the comments by Texas head coach Tom Herman on Monday an extra step.
“There are very strong emotions on both sides and this is something we’ve been working through since our campus initiatives were announced back in July,” Herman said. “As a football program we’ve discussed this and will continue to do so. I’ve encouraged our staff and team to join me in participating after games, if they are comfortable doing that.”
Del Conte didn’t outline any potential ramifications for athletes who decide not remain for The Eyes of Texas after games, but there is a significant difference between the expectations outlined by Del Conte on Wednesday and the encouragement that Herman provided to his staff and his team prior to his Monday press conference.
The Texas athletics director also made it clear that he believes the football team is competing hard on the field.
“Saturday’s AT&T Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl was a great example of how hard our Longhorns are competing,” Del Conte wrote. “Though the comeback and epic four-overtime rivalry game came up short and certainly wasn’t what we wanted, I am extremely proud of the way our team left everything on the field, played their guts out and put it all on the line for nearly five hours of football. They played with passion, pride, grit and determination. It was a heartbreaking loss, but in defeat our Longhorns displayed amazing Texas Fight.”
The controversy lingers as the university continues to do the work necessary to understand the song’s history and ensure that Black athletes are comfortable singing it. When Hartzell and the administration decided to keep The Eyes of Texas as the alma mater, the plan released by the school promised to “own, acknowledge and teach about all aspects of the origins of The Eyes of Texas as we continue to sing it moving forward with a redefined vision that unites our community,” Hartzell wrote.
“Together, we have the power to define what the Eyes of Texas expect of us, what they demand of us, and what standard they hold us to now. “‘The Eyes of Texas’ should not only unite us, but hold all of us accountable to our institution’s core values. But we first must own the history. Only then can we reimagine its future, and I look forward to partnering with our campus community to do just that.”
However, it took three more months until the school announced a commission to investigate the song’s history and produce a report to settle some of the key areas of historical disagreement surrounding it. Texas alum Richard Reddick, Associate Dean for Equity, Community Engagement and Outreach in the College of Education is charged with chronicling that history, with a report expected in January.
Until the school can collectively redefine and reimagine the song’s future with that historical context, it appears that Texas athletes will once again have to remain on the field for the post-game tradition.