Rich Texas Donors Threaten to Pull Funding if Players Don't Sing School Song

Rich donors and alumni of the University of Texas have threatened to stop feeding the cash cow otherwise known as the school's athletic department if the Longhorns quit playing the alma mater that is more than 100-years-old.

The threats aren't just about monetary donations to the school and various other benefactors. They're threatening to cancel season tickets, boycott games and shut off the money if the school doesn't play "The Eyes of Texas" at sporting events.

One football player tweeted that he and his teammates have been told they should look for jobs outside of the state of Texas if they don't stay to sing the song after their contests.

After Texas lost to archrival Oklahoma in four overtimes at the Red River Showdown last October, only Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger remained on the field for "The Eyes of Texas."

Donors fired off emails, phone calls and text messages to Texas leaders, from the band all the way up to the president, calling it "disgusting" and "disgraceful" for only one player to sing the school song.

"It is disgraceful to see the lack of unity and our fiercest competitor Sam E[h]linger standing nearly alone," wrote one graduate, according to the Texas Tribune. The person's name was redacted from the email by the university. "It is symbolic of the disarray of this football program which you inherited. The critical race theory garbage that has been embraced by the football program and the university is doing massive irreparable damage."

In the summer of 2020, during a nationwide reckoning to stop police brutality and racial injustice, about 40 Longhorns athletes asked the school to stop playing the song they called racist. Here's what they posted to social media last June.

"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 letter stated. "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 Eyes of Texas" was written in the early 20th century, and it's set to the famed "I've Been Working on the Railroad." The first-known performance of "The Eyes of Texas" was in the early 1900s by white singers wearing blackface at the Varsity minstrel show.

A small portion of the song is played during the game, and the full version at the end of every game. Players typically stand and hold the "Horns Up" sign with their hands. Many players felt like they were pressured to sing the tune.

Texas Longhorns 'Eyes of Texas'
Players for the University of Texas Longhorns football team sing "The Eyes of Texas" after the game against the Kansas State Wildcats at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Austin, Texas. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texas-Oklahoma football game is considered one of the top rivalries of all-time. The teams play the game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas during one of the weekends of the Texas State Fair. Tickets are equally allotted for each team, and the stadium is typically shown with half in crimson and the other in burnt orange. The game always draws a national audience, and last year's four-overtime thriller was about as good as it got in the series.

Then when Texas' star player was the lone player on the field singing the "The Eyes of Texas," the fury grew with donors. Here are some quotes from their messages (names were redacted by the university for privacy purposes):

"The Eyes of Texas is non-negotiable," said one graduate who's been a season-ticket holder since 1990. "If it is not kept and fully embraced, I will not be donating any additional money to athletics or the university or attending any events."

"My wife and I have given an endowment in excess of $1 million to athletics. This could very easily be rescinded if things don't drastically change around here," another donor wrote. "Has everyone become oblivious of who supports athletics??"

"It is disgraceful to see the lack of unity and our fiercest competitor Sam E[h]linger standing nearly alone," another donor wrote. "It is symbolic of the disarray of this football program which you inherited. The critical race theory garbage that has been embraced by the football program and the university is doing massive irreparable damage."

Defensive back Caden Sterns, who was a 2020 preseason candidate for the Thorpe Award as the nation's top player at this position, said alumni have told them to look for jobs outside of the state if they refused to stand for the song.

"My teammates and I got threatened by some alumni that we would have to find jobs outside of Texas if we didn't participate," Sterns wrote Monday.

My teammates and I got threatened by some alumni that we would have to find jobs outside of Texas if we didn’t participate. https://t.co/owWwHF50ri

— Caden Sterns (@CSterns_7) March 1, 2021

One donor whose name wasn't redacted was billionaire Bob Rowling, whose company owns Omni hotels. His name is on one of the buildings of the Red McCombs School of Business. He replied in an email chain that lots of influential people could pull the rug on important funding to the university.

"I am not advising you or taking any position regarding this issue right now, other than to say 'The Eyes' needs to be our song," Rowling wrote to university president Jay Hartzell. "I AM wanting you to be aware of the 'talk about town' regarding UT. There are a lot of folks on this email chain who love UT and are in positions of influence."