Student athletes at the University of Texas at Austin are asking the university to change some of its practices and traditions in the wake of national protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
It started with a social media post by UT football player Brennan Eagles, and other student athletes have since joined his cause. They’ve asked that the school song be changed; “The Eyes of Texas” has roots in minstrelsy and includes a quote from Confederate general Robert E. Lee. They also want the football stadium to be renamed for Julius Whittier, the first black letterman on the UT football team. The players said they’ll continue to play, but won’t participate in athlete recruitment or donor-related events until changes are made.
Daron Roberts is founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation at UT-Austin. He told Texas Standard host David Brown on Wednesday that the UT athletes aren’t alone in this moment; NBA players are also using their leverage to fight racism, considering sitting out the season when it restarts because it would detract from the protests.
“These are interesting times, and I think that athletes are really taking note of their leverage and they’re using it for issues that they firmly believe in,” Roberts said.
The UT athletes’ protest was spurred by the national protests against the police killing of George Floyd. But Roberts said it also has ties to 2015, when the University of Missouri football team threatened to not play unless the university president was ousted or resigned. They had criticized his handling of “several racially charged incidents on campus,” according to Sports Illustrated. Shortly after, President Tim Wolfe resigned.
But this moment is different than 2015 because of the pandemic. More people than ever are focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-racism and the protests because there are fewer distractions, including live sports. Roberts said if sports leagues like the NBA resume their seasons, it could have a detrimental effect on the anti-racism movement.
“This is a really rare moment in American history, in that because of the fact that we don’t have organized sports on a large scale, people have more time and space to really reflect and think about what’s going on in the country,” Roberts said.
He said athletes at all levels face criticism, and even threats to their lives and livelihoods, when they speak out. That goes for the UT football players, many of whom he’s taught at the university.
“These are thoughtful, smart, very well-intentioned young men, and I think at the very least, if you can’t support what they’re asking for, you have to respect the fact that they’ve made a bold stand.”
Web story by Caroline Covington.