The op-ed written by former UT Linebacker and CBS College Football analyst, Brian Jones, signals what I hope will be the next chapter in the nation’s conversation about race relations and social justice. He provides a productive solution to the challenge that has been posed to the University of Texas to remove its traditional school fight song. His solution: Re-purpose it with commitment and intent.
When athletes talk about legacies, we often envision Halls of Fame and rings of honor. While my den at home still displays trophies, jerseys and plaques from my playing days, I’m especially proud of the fact I was one of the University of Texas football players who abandoned spring practice in 1989 to march in protest of the racist actions of two fraternities on our campus. With the full support of our coach and our fellow players of all races, our message was heard, and the university showed its character by disciplining the fraternities.
The other day, I felt my legacy was affirmed in the actions of current Longhorn football players, when they again linked arms and marched in protest, seeking redress of age-old grievances that are preserved in the statuary and stone of a campus I once called home. In this time of racial reflection and reckoning, their requests are sensible, and I hope the university will respond by removing the names from buildings and the statues from quads that not only preserve, but also celebrate a once prevailing culture of oppression.
The team’s bold and unified action brought back memories of an essential time in my development as a person, a time when standing up for my human worth was more important than reading the eyes of the quarterback or calling a blitz. I stand with these young men and their desire to advance our society’s conversation about equality and justice.
However, I would like to offer to them an opportunity to refine one of their requests in a way that could expand their influence beyond the confines of the “40 Acres,” as the historic campus is fondly called. Their final request is for the removal of the university’s traditional fight song, “The Eyes of Texas.”
When I was a player back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, I would have said that my racism radar was as finely tuned as anyone’s and I was never aware of any racist baggage carried by the song. I sang it wholeheartedly after victories and even losses, feeling united with my teammates and my fellow Longhorns in the stadium and around the world. I was shocked when, in the course of making their requests, the players made reference to historical evidence that the song was once performed in the course of minstrel shows in the 1930s, by leering and prancing performers in blackface.
That offensive historic note certainly sullies the song, and I was ready to jettison it as well. However, upon further reflection, I am not convinced that the lyrics are essentially racist. Therefore, I propose an enhancement to their requests, and encourage them to call, instead, for a transformation of that song.
Traditionally, the lyric, “The eyes of Texas are upon you, you cannot get away,” has been a warning to athletic opponents who will not escape the relentless attention of Longhorn athletes in their pursuit of victory. Going forward, I invite these athletes and challenge my fellow UT alumni to reconsider this fight song as an anthem of accountability. With a unified call for justice, we can change the message, so that Longhorns the world over will now be pledging their eternal vigilance on issues of equality. In the future, when one hears that “the eyes of Texas are upon you,” it should mean there is a legion of graduates and fans of the Lone Star State’s flagship campus holding themselves and their circles of influence accountable on issues of cultural change and racial justice.
I do not propose that we wearers of the burnt orange become racism police, but instead advocates, educators and inspirations for people to learn and forego racist attitudes as they acknowledge racism’s toll on countless generations. What was once a fight song, set to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” can become a rallying cry for generations who embrace the values of equality and affirmation for all, regardless of their ethnicity or economic status.
To mark the moment of the song’s transformation from fight song to anthem of accountability, I hope the team will not only sing along with their “Hook’Em Horns” hand sign, but do so kneeling, signaling not submission but instead taking a reverential pose to convey their embrace of the solemnity of the moment.
The idea of a stadium full of Longhorn players and fans kneeling together is almost too moving to imagine. With a new underpinning, the song will take on even greater meaning, whether it is sung at sporting events or Longhorn family reunions and weddings. We are fond of saying that “what starts at the University of Texas, changes the world,” and we can prove it with this move toward a new era of justice and equality for all.
I’ve always loved the song’s ending, when we shout, “The eyes of Texas are upon you, until Gabriel blows his horn.” In the coming days, when we sing that together, we will be reminded that a struggle as old as humanity can be brought to a heavenly conclusion on earth in our lifetimes. That will be a legacy that any old athlete, any human would be proud to have.
Brian Jones played football for the University of Texas before being drafted by the NFL in 1991. He is now a commentator for CBS Sports and a member of the network’s newly formed 8:46 Project, created to provide a platform for commentators and the athletes they cover to share stories and their hope for a better tomorrow.