University of Texas president addresses ‘Eyes of Texas’ controversy, defends players targeted by furious alums

University of Texas president Jay Hartzell defended Longhorns players who were targeted for refusing to sing the school’s spirit song, “The Eyes of Texas,” after a report revealed earlier this week that boosters threatened to pull donations if the tradition wasn’t followed.

Hartzell said Tuesday that those who are threatening players don’t represent the community.

“People who target our students with hateful views do not represent the values of the Longhorn community,” Hartzell said in a 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.

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“The fact that we don’t all agree on our school song doesn’t mean that we don’t all belong. 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. Having spoken to students and faculty on the committee, I truly believe we can be a model for how communities address complex problems and move forward together.”

Football defensive back Caden Sterns was one player who mentioned that he was threatened by alumni over the song.

“My teammates and I got threatened by some alumni that we would have to find jobs outside of Texas if we didn’t participate,” he tweeted.

“The Eyes of Texas” has been accused of having racial undertones and was a source of controversy for Texas throughout the season amid a summer of racial tension in the U.S. Scrutiny over the song revealed that the title was taken from a favored saying by a former school president who was mimicking Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the song was performed in the 1900s by musicians in blackface at minstrel shows.

During the 2020 season, the band at one point refused to play the song and some players refused to stay out on the field while the song played. It prompted angry emails from donors, some of which were published in the Texas Tribune.

“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 This could very easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here,” one donor wrote back in October. His name wasn’t revealed by UT-Austin because open records laws protect certain donor identities. “Has everyone become oblivious of who supports athletics??”

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS ALUMNI THREATEN TO NO LONGER DONATE AMID CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING SCHOOL SONG, EMAILS SHOW

Many alumni were furious when a photo showed Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger as the only player showing pride in the school’s longtime tradition, when players and coaches stand for the song and hold up the “hook ’em horns” hand signal before and after games. The team had just lost in quadruple overtime to Oklahoma in the 2020 Red River Shootout. However, other photos revealed that other players joined Ehlinger on the field for the song.

“It is disgraceful to see the lack of unity and our fiercest competitor Sam Ehlinger standing nearly alone,” another donor wrote. “It is symbolic of the disarray of this football program which you inherited. The critical race theory garbage that has been embraced by the football program and the University is doing massive irreparable damage to our glorious institution and the country. It has got to stop.”

In this Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, file photo, fans join in singing “The Eyes of Texas” after Texas defeated UTEP 59-3 in an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

Other alumni and donors threatened to cancel their season tickets and boycott games if the song doesn’t remain a part of the university’s tradition, which has led to a high level of concern from the university’s fundraisers.

In January when new head coach Steve Sarkisian was welcomed at his introductory press conference, he said the song would remain a part of the culture with him in charge.

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“I know this much, ‘The Eyes of Texas’ is our school song,” Sarkisian said at the time. “We’re going to sing that song. We’re going to sing that proudly.”

Fox News’ Dan Canova contributed to this report.