UT football players demand school rename buildings named after racist figures

Players want athletics dept to donate money to Black Lives Matter movement

The University of Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium in Austin. Photo credit: Jamie Harms via USA TODAY Sports

By Raga Justin, Texas Tribune

Several athletes at the University of Texas at Austin are refusing to participate in recruiting incoming players or show up at donor-related events if university and athletics officials fail to respond to a list of demands geared toward supporting black students, according to a statement posted Friday afternoon by dozens of the student athletes on Twitter.

Brennan Eagles, the school’s sophomore wide receiver, and Brandon Jones, a senior defensive back, were among the students who posted the statement, detailing a list of actions Longhorn athletes want the university’s athletics department to take. These include donating 0.5% of the department’s annual earnings to the Black Lives Matter movement and black organizations, establishing a permanent black athletic history exhibit in the Athletics Hall of Fame and renaming parts of the football stadium after Julius Whittier, the first black football letterman at UT-Austin.

In addition to demands specific to the athletics department, athletes also want UT officials to rename campus buildings named after Texans who were proponents of segregation or held other racist views, remove a statue of prominent segregationist James Hogg and discontinue the school song “The Eyes of Texas,” which has ties to minstrel shows and was created during segregation. Other calls to action include requiring a module on the history of racism at UT and increasing outreach efforts to inner-city schools in Austin, Dallas and Houston.

“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,” the statement reads.

Athletes will continue to practice and participate in workouts and team activities this summer but are asking for a “plan for implementation” before the fall semester begins. The Tribune could not reach UT Athletics officials immediately for comment, but Athletics Director Chris Del Conte responded to the statement on Twitter.

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

The statement was widely shared among notable student athletes, including defensive backs Caden Sterns and Josh Thompson and men’s basketball guard Jase Febres. More than a dozen football players shared the statement Friday, along with UT’s slogan “What starts here changes the world.” Other athletes, including soccer, volleyball and basketball players, also shared the letter.

These demands come as George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests have spurred calls for racial equality across the country. Last week, football players marched to the Capitol in Austin from the Darrell K. Royal Stadium in a show of support for Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Following a widely-circulated petition and statements from more than 100 student organizations, the larger UT student body sent a letter detailing student demands to interim President Jay Hartzell earlier this week. Their requests mirror those of athletes – students want UT to “acknowledge its racist history” by renaming seven campus buildings, removing the Hogg statue and discontinuing the school song.

Additionally, they are asking UT to cut ties with the Austin Police Department and campus police and adopt inclusive practices in recruiting and selecting UT faculty. UT leadership said it would respond to those demands in the coming weeks.