Texas football players listen to teammate Caden Sterns speak during a team march to the Capitol to protest the killing of George Floyd on June 4, 2020. [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Football

In show of unity and force, Texas athletes call for changes to address UT’s racial past, future

Current players request changing building names, possibly rewriting ‘The Eyes of Texas’ while former athletes express full support

Posted June 12th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • Receiver Jordan Whittington tweeted, “Texas football player for a couple years, but Black forever.”
  • The letter requests the replacement of a new school song “without racist undertones.”
  • Malik Jefferson reacted by tweeting, “I love to see Texas athletes standing up for themselves and demanding equality!!”

In a show of unity and force, multiple University of Texas athletes asked for a series of changes Friday that, if enacted, would radically alter UT’s racial landscape, from changing building names to replacing “The Eyes of Texas” as the school song.

Nearly 40 student-athletes from seven different sports posted a typed, two-page letter on Twitter that was not signed by any individual. The letter says, “on behalf of the UT student athletes, we ask to have the following issues addressed through the implementation or a plan for implementation at the start of the fall semester.”

The American-Statesman spoke with two athletes, who wished to remain anonymous, that stressed the letter and written requests come from UT athletes as a whole, not individuals. The requests come as the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight against racial inequality has sparked national outrage.

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“The recent events across the country regarding racial injustice have brought to light the systemic racism that has always been prevalent in our country as well as the racism that has historically plagued our campus,” the letter states.

“We, as student athletes, and collectively as the University of Texas Longhorn football team, are aware that we are an athletic department made up of many black athletes, and believe that it is time we become active on our campus.”

RELATED: ‘That can be me’: Texas players march to State’s Capitol with higher purpose, raise awareness for inequality

National outlets latched on to receiver Brennan Eagles’ Twitter account, but he was one of more than 20 football players who tweeted the requests. “This didn’t just come from me but all of my teammates and a good group of Individuals who want change in our community,” Eagles tweeted.

Texas safety Caden Sterns tweeted, “Those who support appreciate it and much love! And for those who don’t.. and reacting with hate… still nothing but love! True colors are being shown, and the hate will be EXPOSED.”

Also, receiver Jordan Whittington tweeted, “Texas football player for a couple years, but Black forever.”

Athletic director Chris Del Conte has been vocal in his belief that athletes should be part of the dialogue on race.

“I am always willing to have meaningful conversations regarding any concerns our student-athletes have,” Del Conte tweeted on Friday. “We will do the same in this situation and look forward to having those discussions.”

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte stands for “The Eyes of Texas” before a Big 12 volleyball match at Gregory Gym last October. The school song is customary to sing before and after UT sports events. (Stephen Spillman/For Statesman)

A UT administrative spokesman said the university is aware of three petitions addressing various issues “and look forward to working with them and the UT community to create the best possible experience on our campus for Black students.”

Amaya French, a junior from Houston, is one of the chairs of Ignite Change, a UT student group calling for the university to change several monuments and traditions with racist connotations in light of the death of George Floyd. The group last week launched a petition on Change.org which now has nearly 15,000 signatures. 

French on Friday said she was amazed to see the support from student-athletes, and said their call to action will garner the attention needed to prompt administrators to change.

“For me personally, I don’t think we could have done this without them because they get such national and international coverage,” French said. “This is exactly what we needed to get this in the face of the media, and really get people talking about it and talking about the need for change within our institutions.”

UT athletes are asking the university to rename several buildings on campus that have been on critics’ watchlists for years — Robert Lee Moore Hall, Painter Hall, Littlefield Hall and James Hogg Auditorium. The group also calls for the “replacement of statues with more diverse statues on campus designed by artists/sculptors who are people of color.”

In addition, the group calls for the inclusion of education modules for incoming freshmen about the history of racism on campus. They also are asking for the creation of an outreach program for inner cities — namely Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

Furthermore, the group calls for a permanent Black athletic history exhibit and that the athletic department give 0.5% of its annual earnings to Black organizations and the Black Lives Matter movement. Based on the most recent audited figures, that total would equal approximately $1.1 million from a revenue base of $223.9 million.

The group asks that a portion of Royal-Memorial Stadium be named after Julius Whittier, the first black varsity football player at UT. Whittier was a freshman on the 1969 national championship squad, the last all-white national title team in college football history. He was ineligible to play in ’69 per NCAA freshman rules.

And finally, the group asks that players no longer be forced to sing the school song, “The Eyes of Texas,” after games. The letter requests the replacement of a new song “without racist undertones.”

RELATED: A history of ‘The Eyes of Texas’: Song performed at minstrel shows is now part of every-day UT life

UT has made no attempt to hide the song’s origins, although the official university story tries to gloss over the edges. The song was first performed in the early 1900s at the Varsity minstrel show by white singers in blackface. Its tune follows “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” long considered a Black work song.

Without any changes, UT football players say they will not host recruits this fall or attend donor events as are customs. “We are asking our fellow student athletes to stand with us,” the letter states.

On Twitter, the reaction was swift from former football players.

“Most black players hated singing that song,” Sam Acho tweeted. “We were required to. We knew about the racial undertones but didn’t know how to address them.”

Quandre Diggs reacted to Eagles’ first tweet. “Proud of you all bro! Stand for what you believe in just know i’m with y’all!”

Malik Jefferson reacted by tweeting, “I love to see Texas athletes standing up for themselves and demanding equality!!”

Charles Omenihu tweeted that he respected the current UT players for making this stand that others in the past didn’t do.

“Us alumni have known about the issues regarding racism on campus but didn’t know how to tackle it,” Omenihu tweeted, “but this group of guys have came together with a proposal that make sense.”

Texas coach Tom Herman could not be reached Friday, but he’s been forthcoming and leading his peers when it comes to talking about race relations. In a lengthy interview with the American-Statesman, he said recently there was a possible double standard when it comes to athletes.

RELATED: Texas coach Tom Herman opens up on race relations as his Longhorns speak up in team meeting

“And if you’re going to cheer them and love them for three-and-a-half hours a Saturday in the fall, you better have the same feelings for them off the field, because they’re human beings,” Herman said on June 1.

Herman and his coaching staff walked with dozens of players to the State Capitol building last week to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Nothing’s going to be done if there’s no unity and understanding one another regardless of, color, religion, whatever background wherever you come from,” Sterns told reporters on a video call Thursday. “Come together because this is a bigger issue and a lot really deeper than the surface.”

Staff Writer Lara Korte contributed to this report.

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

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