The Texas volleyball team made two statements Thursday night: The players swept Kansas in straight sets and did not put their horns up during “The Eyes of Texas.”
Texas fans around the arena watched as the women stood united on the north side of the court. Although the arena’s capacity was closer to empty than full, the environment made the moment even more powerful. In front of their die-hard fans, the Longhorns reiterated the message printed on their warmup shirts: “We Are One.”
“We mean no disrespect to our school. We love representing Texas. We love everything about it,” junior setter Jhenna Gabriel said in a postgame interview. “We’ve just had a lot of conversations about ‘The Eyes of Texas’ and where we all stood on it and came to a team decision. We chose to stay out there and to just hold each other and show each other we're supporting each other. Nobody on the team feels very comfortable seeing it knowing what it stands for.”
The Texas volleyball team has been vocal on social media about its support for the Black Lives Matter movement and released a video Sept. 9 with messages on social justice. Sophomore opposite hitter Skylar Fields frequently posts Instagram stories showing her solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement and encourages others to do the same.
Junior outside hitter Logan Eggleston said players were not comfortable singing “The Eyes of Texas” because of the song’s ties to minstrel shows where actors performed in blackface.
“(‘The Eyes of Texas’) came from a quote that’s just not super inclusive to Black individuals, so we just don’t feel super comfortable singing it … ,” Eggleston said. “I'm just happy to be on a team that's so inclusive and so loving of each other, so it was nice to be together with my team and them just being so understanding.”
Fans around the stadium did not have an adverse reaction to their stance; some fans stood with them and refused to put their horns up and sing along. The Frank Erwin Center held 1,472 fans Thursday, but the small number still made a big impact during the game.
The Erwin Center looked “normal:” a glass box protected the national media sitting courtside, children and families wore Longhorn masks as they were surrounded by a sea of empty seats. But the arena still bustled with noise. Texas cheer led “This is Texas” chants during rallies while off-duty Cheer and Pom members sat on the east side of the stadium in black warmup gear, getting on their feet every time Texas volleyball scored a point.
Gabriel said she and her teammates were surprised by the noise level coming from the crowd.
“We thought it was going to be really quiet, and it ended up not being quiet at all,” Gabriel said. “It's just really big … I think that the whole team was kind of surprised at how loud Erwin got and how much fun it was.”