Texas football coach Steve Sarkisian apologized on Monday after he and several players skipped the traditional postgame rendition of school song “The Eyes of Texas” after Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State.
The song has become a source of protest and controversy amid the revelation of its strel-show roots and ties to Confederate Civil War general Robert. E. Lee. Sarkisian vowed in 2021 when he took the job to sing the song “proudly” amid support of “The Eyes of Texas” from school administration and donors.
He announced on Monday that skipping Saturday’s rendition was simply an oversight after a tough loss. He addressed the subject before discussing football or taking any questions at his weekly Monday news conference.
“I owe an apology to Longhorn Nation,” Sarkisian said. “I made a mistake at the end of the game in not singing ‘The Eyes of Texas’ when the game was done. That was not anything that was intentional. That was not anything that had to do with our players. I think our players just followed me up the ramp into the locker room. Obviously upset by the way the game ended and literally walked off the field.
“I apologize to everybody for that. That’ll never happen again. Again, it was not intentional. It was not premeditated by any means.”
Texas led Saturday’s Top-25 matchup, 34-24, but allowed Oklahoma State to score 17 unanswered points in the 41-34 Cowboys win. He left the field after the loss, and several players followed him into the locker room. Some players remained for the song, which is played after every game, win or lose. Social media took notice of the sparse attendance by the football team, which customarily participates in singing the song.
Why the school song is controversial
The song was a source of heated debate in Austin amid the 2020 US race reckoning in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Texas athletes called for the school to stop playing the song the summer prior to Sarkisian’s hiring while citing its roots.
Set to the tune of “I’ve been working on the railroad,” the song debuted in 1903 at a campus minstrel show featuring white students performing in blackface. Student band members who wrote it drew inspiration and the song’s title from University president William Prather, who frequently paraphrased Confederate Civil War General Robert E. Lee in proclaiming “Forward, young men and women of the University, the eyes of Texas are upon you. ”
Members of the school band joined athletes in protesting the song and refused to play it during the last two games of the 2020 season. School administration, meanwhile, insisted that the song would be played via an announcement from then-dean of the College of Fine Arts Doug Dempster. It responded to effectively the band’s protest by suspending it for the season’s final football games and playing “The Eyes of Texas” over loudspeakers.
School president Jay Hartzell and athletic director Chris Del Conte joined a united front alongside school administration in supporting “The Eyes of Texas,” which a board of regents appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott declared in Oct. 2020 would “remain the official school song.” Donors, meanwhile, threatened to pull funding if the song wasn’t played. A university-commissioned committee determined in a March 2021 report that the song had “no racist intent.”
When Sarkisian took the job in January 2021, he addressed the song in his introductory news conference.
“I know this much, ‘The Eyes of Texas’ is our school song,” Sarkisian said. “We support that song. We’re going to sing that song, we’re going to sing it proudly.”
In 2021, the university’s Butler School of Music announced alongside Hartzell that members of the band would be required to play “The Eyes of Texas.” Those who chose not to would be given the option of joining a newly created alternative school band.
The alternative band was slated to form during the 2022 fall semester. The school announced in September that the band was put on hold while the school seeks a new music director.