Golden: What will change going forward now that Texas' 'Eyes' report has been released?
School president Hartzell says athletes can choose if they want to sing the song or not
- Hartzell put together a 24-person committee earlier this year to explore the origins of the song.
- Last summer, the Texas football released a list of demands, one of which was to discontinue "The Eyes of Texas" as the school song.
- The song has polarized the fan base.
“The Eyes of Texas” will continue to be played and sung on campus.
We knew as much well before Texas President Jay Hartzell created a 24-person committee to examine the history of the most polarizing school song in America. The committee released its findings Tuesday with the hope that students, athletes, fans and alumni will draw their own conclusions.
The biggest finding from the committee is that the song has no racist intent.
Let that sink in for a second.
Many of you are saying, "Of course it doesn't" while others are saying, "Yeah, right."
Intent is one thing, but the song's connection to minstrel shows will always connect it to a racist past. History cannot be changed, and while I truly believe the people who sing it now are mostly doing it with purity of heart, there are still others who showed their true colors when some athletes dared question the song's past.
You can draw your own conclusions from the 59-page document. Credit should go to the administration, which could have taken the easy way out and just hoped this controversy would blow over. But that wasn’t happening, so researchers dug into the history of this song, pored through records and came up with a report that provided a bit of perspective.
During a Monday interview with Hartzell and committee chairman Richard Reddick, the associate dean for equity, community engagement and outreach in the College of Education, we also learned that UT athletes will not be required to sing it, and on Tuesday Hartzell said athletes wouldn't be required to either stand or remain on the field or court for the song.
It's interesting news because new football coach Steve Sarkisian said in his introductory press conference that his players would sing "The Eyes" proudly. Hartzell's statement indicates otherwise.
Hartzell will be meeting with campus athletes this week, starting with the football team Tuesday morning.
So back to the bombshell. The researchers on the committee could not find any connection between former Confederate general Robert E. Lee saying to his students at Washington and Lee in the 1860s that, “The Eyes of the South are upon you,” a line later written into the 1903 song with Texas replacing the South.
That piece of information, on its base, is a potential game changer because it goes against what many of us have been told over the years — that the song had ties to slavery dating back to the 1800s.
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What cannot be disputed is the old tradition of students holding variety shows and singing "The Eyes" in blackface. While Lee's would-be connection to the song is one which will still be debated despite these findings, what can't be disputed is those racially charged types of shows because we have photographic evidence to prove it.
If anything, we understand that people are going to believe what they want to believe. And that cuts both ways. Just because researchers couldn't verify the stories regarding Lee doesn't mean it didn't happen. None of us were there.
Whatever the case, there is never an excuse for hatred thrown at young adults by people hiding behind the anonymity provided by a fake email address or Twitter handle. Many of the emails the American-Statesman printed last fall and the ones published recently by the Texas Tribune showed the ugly side of some fans, a dark, racist side.
Caden Sterns, DeMarvion Overshown and many others took cyber hits that were much more harmful than anything they have experienced on a football field — and for what, because they dared question the lyrical content and message behind a song?
“I’m really proud of the student-athletes,” said Hartzell, who has been clear in his criticism of the hateful nature of the emails. “It takes courage. I’ve seen some of the hits they’ve taken on social media and I feel for them. We want to show them love and support.”
The committee obviously had to walk a fine line between objectivity and subjectivity because there were blanks that simply could not be filled in by the research. The people involved — a mix of UT faculty, students and former students — undoubtedly have love for the university and are devoted to bringing about some positive change.
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Getting to that middle ground may present the biggest challenge in the hope for eventual harmony.
“While it is a comprehensive and a very well-sourced and a very well-researched report, my hope is that dissertation writers out there, historians, educational researchers, will pick up the mantle and do more of the work,” Reddick said. “We used the primary sources we had to the best of our ability to get to our understanding of what took place. We tried to avoid as much as possible, to get into the heads of what people were thinking."
While there is respect for the work that went into producing the report, one must still respect the feelings of the players, past and present, who continue to believe the song has racist tendencies and also of those who have viewed this song as a symbol of unity, school spirit and state pride.
Some, like former All-American safety Rod Babers, a well-respected alum who has given hard opinions on local sports talk radio for the past 15 years, are taking an open approach to the findings regarding Lee and the song. On Monday night, he applauded Hartzell and the committee for what he called its devotion to historical accuracy.
He's also encouraging others to find a common ground.
"We must let facts inform and enlighten this debate and not allow the discourse to deteriorate into denigrative bickering," Babers said. "But I fear that because there were multiple issues regarding the song’s racially insensitive past that those who have decided to disavow it will continue to do so on other grounds. These days it is very tough to get someone to change their mind or admit they were mistaken. Even when facts affirm that reality."
Babers understands human nature, and the tendency is to go with the information we have been given for many years over something new. We may never know the full truth but can only hope any future disagreements can be hashed out with decorum and some good old-fashioned human decency.
Both have been in short supply lately.
“I hope we will get to more of a point of mutual respect,” Hartzell said. “I’m hoping we will get to a common set of evidence and meet a similar set of conclusions."