Since protects erupted across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, Texas Longhorns players have shared their publicly thoughts on racial injustice and marched from Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to the State Capitol to protest police brutality and systemic racism.
During a Thursday media availability, junior safety Caden Sterns spoke about the need to use his platform to make changes. Previously, junior wide receiver Brennan Eagles discussed the possibility of not playing football, as did junior cornerback Anthony Cook in a Thursday tweet that was subsequently deleted.
“I do know that our team is committed to making sure that that is not the last time that you will see Texas football out on the forefront of changing the landscape and system of our society as best we can,” head coach Tom Herman said on Thursday.
On Friday, in a show of coordinated solidarity, black Texas football student-athletes, along with some basketball student-athletes and volleyball student-athletes, released a statement that featured a list of reasonable requests in lieu of skipping workouts, practices, or games.
✊ “What starts here changes the world” #WeAreOne pic.twitter.com/pimHqdhFSs— (@_BrennanEagles_) June 12, 2020
“Here at the University of Texas, we live by the saying, ‘What starts here changes the world.’ The role of a student athlete at The University of Texas brings with it responsibilities beyond that of the average student,” the statement reads. “We are expected to serve as ambassadors for the university, our respective programs, the student body, and the entire State of Texas. As ambassadors, it is our duty to utilize our voice and role as leaders in the community to push for change to the benefit of the entire UT community.
“The recent events across the country regarding racial injustice have brought to light the systemic racism that has always been prevalent in our country as well as racism that has historically plagued our campus. As a student athlete body, we have had many conversations about how Texas can actively take charge. Our athletic department released a statement acknowledging these injustices and publicly supported the rights of student athletes using their voices to make change. We, as student athletes, and collectively as the University of Texas Longhorn football team, are aware that we are an athletic department made up of many black athletes, and believe that it is time we are active on our campus.
“We aim to hold the athletic department and university to a higher standard by not only asking them to keep their promise of condemning racism on our campus, but to go beyond this by taking action to make Texas more comfortable and inclusive for the black athletes and the black community that has so fervently supported this program.
“On behalf of the UT student athletes, we ask to have the following issues addressed through implementation or a plan for implementation at the start of the fall semester. We will continue to practice, workout, and participate in all required team activities in preparation for the upcoming season, but without an official commitment from the university we will not be participating in the recruiting of incoming players or donor-related events. We are asking our fellow student athletes to stand with us.”
The statement also included the requests made of the administration.
Campus actions include renaming buildings named after Confederate officers, the replacement of Confederate statues with more diverse statues designed/sculpted by people of color, inclusion of freshman modules discussing the history of racism on campus, and an inner-city outreach program.
Athletics actions include more diversity in the Athletics Hall of Fame, including a permanent black athletic history exhibit, the donation of .5 percent of annual athletic department earnings to black organizations and the Black Live Matter movement, and the renaming of an area of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to honor the late Julius Whittier, the first black football player at Texas.
And, finally, replacing “The Eyes of Texas” with a new alma mater and lifting the requirement for athletes to sing the song.
This is a tour stop on Dr. Gordon’s Racial Geography Tour at the Texas Cowboy Pavilion. He discusses the origins of “The Eyes of Texas” and the Texas Cowboys history of minstrel shows. Take the full tour at https://t.co/XyzOtZqMnU pic.twitter.com/PW8hkrWdQG— UT Liberal Arts (@LiberalArtsUT) June 8, 2020
The last request might be the most significant, but many Longhorns fans might not know that it was first sung in 1903 at a minstrel show with all the performers in black face. The tune itself for the alma mater, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” is based on a minstrel tune, “Levee Song,” that caricatured black dialect and made light of the “physically abusive and highly exploitative conditions for laborers in railroad and levee camps” “which occasionally resulted in death.”
Now it’s time for the administration to do more than release public statements of support and actually make the necessary changes to create a more inclusive university community reflecting the significant contributions of black athletes and students and to remove the lingering vestiges of racism exemplified by buildings named after Confederates, Confederate statues, and an alma mater with racist undertones.
At the least, black student-athletes shouldn’t be forced to sing an alma mater that makes them uncomfortable.
[Update Friday 4:40 p.m. Central]: Athletics director Chris Del Conte responded to the statement on Twitter:
I am always willing to have meaningful conversations regarding any concerns our student-athletes have. We will do the same in this situation and look forward to having those discussions. https://t.co/kat3B9hqvo— Chris Del Conte (@_delconte) June 12, 2020