AUSTIN, Texas – Racist emails sent to the University of Texas amid a debate over the school song “The Eyes of Texas” were “abhorrent and hateful” but don’t truly represent the Longhorns’ alumni and fans, university President Jay Hartzell said Tuesday.
Hartzell was responding to a report published Monday by the Texas Tribune that featured emails sent by school supporters angry that a group of football players had refused to sing the traditional song after games because of its historical links to racist minstrel shows.
The Texas Tribune reported that the vast majority of more than 300 emails it received in a public records request demanded the school keep the song, and dozens warned that donors would withhold money if players didn't get in line. Several said Black players should leave the school if they don't want to sing.
Since Monday, at least two former players have tweeted they received threats from Texas fans for protesting the song.
“People who target our students with hateful views do not represent the values of the Longhorn community,” Hartzell said in his statement. “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 reiterated the school's earlier decision that the song stays.
“‘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.”
Hartzell's statement did not address whether financial threats were a major factor in the decision to keep the song.
“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 This could very easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here,” wrote one donor in October. His name was redacted by the school.
Written in 1903 and sung to the tune the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” the song is a standard in Longhorns country. For decades, it has been sung after games and graduation ceremonies and is a popular sing-along at weddings and even funerals.
The title of the song is taken from a favored saying of a former school president who had mimicked remarks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. “The Eyes of Texas” was routinely performed by musicians in blackface at minstrel shows.
New football coach Steve Sarkisian has said the players will “sing it proudly" next season.
Hartzell said the school will release a report next week on the history of the song that he hopes will spark continued conversations in the university community.
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