A meeting between Texas football players and officials last October has taken on a new light in the wake of the release of several donor emails supporting the embattled "The Eyes of Texas" school song.
Two Texas players have told the Texas Tribune's Kate McGee that athletic department officials told the team they had to remain on the field for "The Eyes of Texas" singalong with fans. Before the meeting, several donors had been upset after players chose to skip the postgame singalong, with some threatening to pull financial contributions to the university over the matter.
During the meeting, the officials allegedly relayed threats from angry donors that the players could face difficult employment prospects if they continued to protest the song, which has racist roots as part of a minstrel show.
One player's account, via the Tribune:
“They said y'all don't have to sing it. But y’all have to stay on the field. Y’all have to go over there and at least show fans appreciation for coming out and watching you guys play,” said junior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown in a Tuesday phone interview.
“It was really eye-opening,” Overshown said. “These are some high-power people that come to see you play and they can keep you from getting a job in the state of Texas. It was shocking that they said that. To this day I still think back to the moment. They really used that as a threat to get us to try to do what they wanted us to do.”
Another unnamed player:
“He kept saying these guys provide this for you. ... He was mentioning, ‘We have donors talking about pulling out money from the south end zone [stadium addition project], stopping their donations,’" the second player said.
The unnamed player reportedly told the Tribune that former head coach Tom Herman and athletic director Chris Del Conte were the officials relaying the donor threats.
Those accusations come two days after Texas safety Caden Sterns tweeted basically the same story on Monday when the donor emails became public.
Texas officials claimed they weren't forcing players to sing 'Eyes of Texas'
The existence of this meeting was already known; Del Conte himself discussed the meeting back in October. However, the accounts of Del Conte and Herman differ significantly from these latest accounts.
In one newsletter, Del Conte claimed he had simply outlined his expectations for the team, via the Dallas Morning News:
“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.”
Herman also denied that his team had been issued a "mandate," with involvement in the singalong still voluntary.
However it played out, the result was clear. Texas players stayed on the field for next week's game against Baylor.
When approached with the players' latest accounts, Del Conte again denied that any player had been forced to stay on the field:
“We simply asked for their help — no one was forced or required to do so,” he said in a statement.
“I never said this, nor would I say this to a student-athlete, and I’ve never heard it from any donors or alumni. My message has consistently been about unity. I’m disappointed if anything anyone else said to our student-athletes caused them to feel this way. That concerns me,” he said in an emailed statement. “I’ve talked to several student-athletes about this and am happy to talk to anyone to let them know that this is not true. I’ve only seen our alumni work to support our student-athletes.”
This back-and-forth is the latest episode in a saga that has been raging in Austin since last summer, when Texas athletes publicly requested the song be replaced in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Then, as now, the request was met with a vocal response from alumni and other residents of Texas.
Eventually, Longhorns players were openly skipping the singalong, leading to emails such as this one published by the Texas Tribune:
"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."
Texas denounced those emails as "a few extremist views," but it sure appears that the athletic officials involved may have reacted by giving those extremists exactly what they wanted.
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