The optics weren’t as they appeared when Sam Ehlinger stayed on the field to sing “The Eyes of Texas” following a quadruple-overtime loss to Oklahoma two weeks ago, the senior quarterback said Tuesday.
Ehlinger said the image of him standing as the only player on the field singing the controversial alma mater while his teammates left for the locker room was “a little bit of a misunderstanding,” and he wasn’t the only player on the field while the song played.
“I stayed on the field for longer than my teammates (because) I was talking to coaches and players,” Ehlinger said. “I was out there for a longer time. I know there were a few other guys out there on the field. I know when I turned around to walk back to the locker room, Ta’Quon Graham was there waiting for me. I wasn't the only one on the field.”
Ehlinger and Graham, a senior defensive lineman, both confirmed that Texas Athletics Director Chris Del Conte met with the team last week to discuss his expectations in regard to the song. Del Conte said in his 40 Acres Insider newsletter last Wednesday that he expects the team to be “standing together as a unified group for ‘The Eyes.’”
Graham was one of several dozen UT student-athletes who tweeted a coordinated statement June 12 calling for the University to drop “The Eyes of Texas” as the school song, among other initiatives, to address racial injustice on campus. Graham did not appear to sing “The Eyes” after previous home games against UT-El Paso and TCU this season.
Now, Graham says he’ll stand on the field for the school song.
“I would say (‘The Eyes’) has been more of a distraction,” Graham said. “I thought we were past this point. I thought we were past the issues surrounding the song. I thought we were just focused on the season, but it popped up again, and we talked about it as a team.”
Head coach Tom Herman said in a Monday press conference that he is encouraging players to stay on the field after games for the song but is sensitive to how each individual player feels.
Ehlinger said he has passion for the song and never sang it in a negative context. He said the song is an experience he shared with his family, and singing it is about paying respect to UT and its traditions.
“I shared my perspective with the team, so there is no splintering of this song,” Ehlinger said. “I think because it's an election year, everything is made up to be a lot more polarizing than it really is. I've had a lot of talks with guys on the team. They completely understand my perspective, and that perspective is that I grew up a Longhorn. I grew up singing ‘The Eyes of Texas’ win, lose or draw.”
Graham said the players were able to find common ground on the song, and the locker room isn’t divided despite rumors about tension.
“This is a very sensitive thing,” Graham said. “ I think we handled it pretty well, and I think we're going to continue to do so.”