Ricky Williams, left, and Earl Campbell greet each other before UT's game against New Mexico at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Sept. 8, 2012. (Jay Janner/American-Statesman)

Football

‘I’m proud of that song’: Texas Heisman winners Campbell, Williams both support ‘The Eyes’

Campbell, Williams discuss their emotions about UT changing Joe Jamail Field to Campbell-Williams Field

Posted September 9th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • Campbell: “What happens at this university trains the world, and I'm part of that because I'm at this university.”
  • Williams: “I think it’s important to understand our history and to understand where the song came from."
  • The Jamail family asked UT to take their late father's name off the Royal-Memorial Stadium field this summer.

Texas ex Earl Campbell said Wednesday he was proud of “The Eyes of Texas” school song even though it wasn’t easy being a Black football player at UT in the 1970s.

“I’m proud of that song,” Campbell said Wednesday. “I think that there’s a lot of things that can be done other than (change) that song, in my opinion.

“I just believe that ‘The Eyes of Texas’ stands for something. And I think those young people going to the university, as they get older, they will understand. But I still believe there’s things to be done in this world other than (change) that song.”

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Campbell and fellow Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams met with reporters via Zoom to discuss having their name added to Royal-Memorial Stadium. Since 1997, the grass was called Joe Jamail Field in honor of one of the school’s longtime donors and one of the law school’s most famous graduates.

Former Texas Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell supports the singing of “The Eyes of Texas” at UT games. “I just believe that ‘The Eyes of Texas’ stands for something,” he said. “And I think those young people going to the university, as they get older, they will understand.” (Stephen Spillman/For Statesman)

But Jamail’s family asked to have their late father’s name taken off the field this summer and replaced with a new name. Texas opens the season on Campbell-Williams Field at 7 p.m. Saturday against UTEP.

“The elephant in the room is that Texas has a bit of reputation for African-American players,” Williams said. “The fact that the university moved so quickly to get this done, I think to me that’s what speaks volumes and hopefully does a lot to change that reputation.”

In July, Dahr Jamail said he was spurred to action by the shocking video of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement. “At least people that will see this, maybe it will inspire somebody to do something else,” Dahr Jamail told the American-Statesman. “It’s just one step on the road to making things better. But when we lift other people up, we lift ourselves up.”

Campbell said former SMU great Eric Dickerson called to congratulate him. “He said, ‘I can’t believe the University of Texas did something like that,’” Campbell said. “That’s what I heard over and over again.”

The field name change gave Campbell and Williams a chance to add their voices to the ongoing dialogue about social injustice. Both were wildly successful players for the Longhorns in different eras. Campbell won the Heisman Trophy in 1977; Williams won his in 1998.

Ricky Williams won the Heisman Trophy in 1998 after breaking the NCAA Division I rushing record with 2,124 yards. He too supports the singing of “The Eyes of Texas.” (Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman)

In many ways, they had the same experiences playing at UT, a school with a majority white student body that had an all-white football team until 1969. Julius Whittier became the school’s first Black football letter winner in 1970. He joined the program in ’69 but freshmen were ineligible due to NCAA rules.

Campbell said folks back home in Tyler thought he would flunk out. Some in Austin believed he didn’t belong on campus. It’s that same, uneasy feeling current players have today. That’s why UT players pushed to ban The Eyes or at least to stop being forced to sing it because of its origins in 1920s-era minstrel shows.

“I took a lot of pride in going to the university and listening to that song over the years while I was there because I felt as though I was at the university,” Campbell said. “Yes, ‘The Eyes of Texas’ even included Tyler, Texas, because it’s a part of Texas. I just felt like, ‘Hey, you think you got your eyes on us? We got our eyes on you, too.’

“What happens at this university trains the world, and I’m part of that because I’m at this university.”

Williams called changing the song an “interesting question, and we’re living in a very polarizing time where people are having strong opinions.

“I think anytime we move into a time of crisis like this, people’s opinions flare a little bit,” he said. “I think it’s important to understand our history and to understand where the song came from. But I think it’s more powerful to transform the meaning of the song and the definition of the song, rather than trying to erase our history like it never existed.”

The university acknowledged a list of requests made by players to change the name of some buildings and erect a statue of Whittier, in addition to changing the name on the field for Campbell and Williams. But the school stopped short of changing the school song. Now, players are no longer required to sing or even hold up their “Hook ’em” hand signs after games.

It’s unclear how players will react after Saturday’s game during the traditional post-game singing of The Eyes. The Longhorn Band will not be at the game due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Going forward, those same players will be standing on a field named after two of the best players in school history, who happened to be Black.

“I think it’s something that’s going to be not only be here today, tomorrow or next year, but years to come,” Campbell said. “This is going to make a difference not only to those who come to the university but also for some people that have heard the negative things about the university. It goes to show they are at least trying to do something about what has happened in the past.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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