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More than a century after "The Eyes of Texas" was written, Natalie Wright entered the University of Texas for her freshman year.
The 2014 graduate was in the band, where she played the French horn.
"It was probably the formative part of my college experience," she told Austonia.
At the time, Wright felt the school song was a classic, one that transcended generations. "When I played it, I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself," she said.
But over the summer, like many others, Wright learned more about its origins, which include taking inspiration from a Robert E. Lee quote and first being performed at a minstrel show, where white performers wore blackface and mimicked Black Americans.
Members of a private Longhorn alumni band Facebook group are engaged in heated discussions over the song and its future, Wright said, and are divided largely along generational lines.
There's nothing wrong w/ the current song. In fact, it has tied students together for many decades. That it was played at a disgusting minstrel show a century ago is immaterial. BTW, did you favor the removal of the current Va governor who did far worse, doing blackface himself?
— Sandy Kress (@Kress_Sandy) October 22, 2020
The origins of the song are in every way racist. I used to sing it with all my power too, but I won't again. Many Alumni of the Longhorn Band feel the same. Teaching the history and owning up to it, that's going to get awkward. The Redskins took time too.
— garrettkeastconducts (@GarrettKeast) July 14, 2020
There are also students who support keeping "The Eyes of Texas" as the school song.
"I grew up singing 'The Eyes of Texas' win, lose or draw," Longhorn quarterback Sam Ehlinger said at a post-game press conference on Oct. 12. "I shared that experience with my (late) dad, and never once singing that song has anything negative ever crossed my mind."
But Dr. Stefan Bradley, a professor of African American Studies at Loyola Marymount University, said this dynamic fits into a long history of campus debates, over issues such as integration and going coed.
"It will be interesting to see how this ends," he said. "But I wouldn't be surprised if young people have their way with this."
Wright would be happy with such an outcome.
"In my opinion the younger generation just keeps carrying this torch of education and awareness and antiracism," she said. "I'm really impressed with how the kids younger than me are handling things like this."
The killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25 set off a national outcry over racism in America.
Students at UT-Austin—around 5% of whom are Black, compared to nearly 13% of the state's population—and on campuses across the country started petitions and lobbied for the removal of statues that commemorated Confederate leaders and slave owners.
In June, UT student-athletes asked the administration to take a series of actions, including renaming buildings such as the Robert Lee Moore Hall and replacing "The Eyes of Texas" with a song "without racist undertones."
The song's lyrics are not explicitly racist:
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
All the livelong day.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
You cannot get away.
Do not think you can escape them
At night or early in the morn.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you
'Til Gabriel blows his horn.
But as Dr. Edmund T. Gordon, an associate professor of African and African diaspora studies and vice provost for diversity at UT-Austin, explains in his racial geography campus tour, the lyrics are drawn from a quote often repeated by the supreme commander of the Confederate army, Robert E. Lee: The eyes of the south are upon you.
The next month, University President Jay Hartzell responded with a letter, entitled "A More Diverse and Welcoming Campus." Although the university announced it would fulfill some of the students' requests—and has since taken steps to do so—the administration decided to keep "The Eyes of Texas" as the school song.
"It is my belief that we can effectively reclaim and redefine what this song stands for by first owning and acknowledging its history in a way that is open and transparent," Hartzell wrote.
On the field
Then the football season started.
Ehlinger, who posted in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in May, received press attention for being one of few players to sing the song after the Texas vs. Oklahoma game on Oct. 10. Although Ehlinger called the episode a "misunderstanding," it prompted the creation of a hashtag—#StandWithSam.
A group of disappointed alumni and fans of UT, who have not publicly identified themselves, launched a petition: #StandWithSam & The Eyes of Texas. It has received more than 16,000 signatures.
On Oct. 21, three days before the band's first live performance of the football season and in the middle of the campus celebration of Free Speech Week, The Daily Texan student newspaper broke news. The Longhorn band lacked the "necessary instrumentation" to play the school song at the Oct. 24 game against Baylor University.
Hartzell said there were no plans for the band to perform live at the Baylor game and said he "remain(s) truly optimistic that we will find ways to join together around our song, which has been so positive for so many Longhorns over the past 120 years," in an Oct. 21 statement.
The next day, the University of Texas System Board of Regents announced it's "unequivocally and unanimously in support of" Hartzell.
A campus tradition
Some students and alumni feel the song is a unifier that is being unfairly painted as a divider.
"I believe the anthem should remain," Jason Hannah wrote as his reason for signing the #StandWithSam petition. "Please don't allow the plague of cancel culture to destroy our history."
Others raised concerns that replacing the song would affect alumni giving to UT, which has the second largest endowment in the country, and disputed that the song was racist.
"There are no words in the 'Eyes of Texas' that should divide us," Jan Brown wrote. On Saturday, ahead of the Texas vs. Baylor game, a banner was flown around the Darrel K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium that directed people to the #StandWithSam petition homepage.
Somebody paid to have a Stand With Sam banner fly around the stadium because they want players to stay for The Eyes… https://t.co/elXNladz4H— Anwar Richardson (@Anwar Richardson)1603563660.0
West Campus bar Cain and Abel's also hosted a pregame event celebrating the song, which it called "one of UT's greatest traditions" on its Facebook page.
Bradley, the Loyola Marymount professor, said this type of debate is par for the course.
"What ends up happening is everybody has their vision of what their university was and is," he told Austonia. "The problem is that not everybody's vision matches.
Bradley's research focuses on Black student activism during the post-WWII era, including during the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. During these periods, some alumni and university administrators pushed back against Black student activists and others advocating for policy changes, such the creation of an African American studies department or admitting women, arguing that doing so would compromise the university's standing.
Of course, now such changes seem inevitable.
With the debate over "The Eyes of Texas," students are similarly responding to cultural shifts—such as the Black Lives Matter movement—outside of the academy's walls, which are harder for the administration to control.
"The major stakeholders at the university … the students themselves believe that the university should operate a certain kind of way, and they've begun to operate in the way that they think the university ought to," he said. "That is very, very difficult to stop."
Bradley also responded to concerns about alumni giving, saying that there may be a cost associated with defending the song when it comes to young alumni and prospective students, who have grown up watching the media coverage of Trayvon Marton's death and live streamed video of Floyd's.
"No university wants to be known as the university that's mired in racial tensions," he said. "You can't sell that on the admissions tour."
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17 years and three medals later, Osterman's last ride with USA softball is over. What's next for Cat?
Nearly two decades after her debut with the University of Texas and 17 years after her first Olympic gold, softball icon Cat Osterman stepped off the Olympic pitcher's mound for the last time with a silver medal to take back home.
Osterman, a three-time Olympian who has been called the "Michael Jordan of softball," will officially retire from the international realm at 38 after a decorated career that included Olympic golds, years of retirement and plenty of adversity—from a worldwide pandemic to dashed gold-medal dreams.
Osterman and her crew left Tokyo on a bittersweet note on Tuesday with a silver medal in hand.
Osterman with Team USA in 2008. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
Osterman in the final in 2021. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
After a year of sparse in-person training and over a decadelong hiatus, Team USA and Osterman flew to the finals. In five games, the team beat Italy (2-0), Canada (1-0), Mexico (2-0), Australia (2-1), and Japan (2-1).
Deja vu struck in the final match. On one side, Osterman and fellow 2008 Olympic teammate Monica Abbott took the mound; on the other was the 39-year-old Yukiko Ueno, a familiar foe who helped the team beat Team USA last go-round.
"Just like 13 years ago," Ueno said in a press conference, "we were facing each other in the final."
Ueno, who had lost hopes at gold to Osterman in '04, outpitched her longtime opponent with six scoreless innings as Team USA was held to just three hits. The same team that squandered their gold-medal hopes 13 years before had done it once again.
Your Tokyo 2020 Olympic Silver Medalists 🇺🇸#TokyoOlympics | @TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/MOMNOedHUd
— USA Softball Women's National Team 🇺🇸 (@USASoftballWNT) July 27, 2021
"There's a little bit of disappointment in not bringing home the gold since that's the eye on the prize when you go over there and you know you have a shot at it," Osterman told Austonia. "But more than anything, I'm very proud of the way our team handled everything that was part of this journey and not just the six games."
It's that very loss at the 2008 Olympics that partially motivated Osterman to get back on the mound. She officially put down the glove in 2015 after six seasons with the USSSA Pride, took time with family and began coaching at Texas State University.
Osterman helped ace Randi Rupp to greatness while a coach at Texas State University. (Active Voice Health/Twitter)
She thought her Olympic endeavors were well over—until talks of reinstating softball into the Games reentered the conversation.
"It wasn't until 2016 or 2017, that it ever crossed my mind to possibly put the USA uniform on again," Osterman said. "After the World Championships in 2010, I walked away, and I thought that my career on the international stage was done. So this was a pleasant kind of new opportunity."
Three years after facing any competition, Osterman was on the field once more with world-class athletes. Some, like Osterman and Abbott, had been playing together long enough to form a formidable "Fire and Ice" duo on the mound. Others had just graduated college.
Osterman said playing with a younger generation of athletes was one of the most rewarding aspects of this year's Games.
"It can be very different when you have 24- and 38-year-olds on the same field," Osterman said. "The adversity put us in some challenging positions and we came through with flying colors. And this group will forever be special just because what we had to go through is so different."
While on the mound, Osterman's job was to give the team a calm start. Off of the field, she felt her role had much of the same effect: she knew that new Olympic feeling, and she served as a deep breath to her first-time teammates.
"There's no words to explain how nervous and excited you get knowing that the whole world can be watching," Osterman. "I think using those emotions and figuring out how to get all our butterflies lined up and going in the right direction, so that way we were all moving together, was kind of my role outside of pitching."
We've heard her retire once before, but this time Osterman said she's gone for good—even from coaching. After her final time with Team USA on Sept. 27, she plans on returning to Austin, where she'll look to work for a nonprofit.
A gold and two silvers will have to do for one of the most decorated athletes in U.S. softball history.
"To be able to say you're a three-time Olympic medalist is a pretty special deal, right?" Osterman. "I played for a long time. But those are the pinnacle, in my mind, and kind of what elicits the dream to keep playing."
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Hospitals are facing a "significant" increase in admissions of pregnant women due to COVID-19 complications, Austin-Travis County health officials say, revealing what could be a long-term side effect of the virus.
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes met with three maternal medicine specialists on Monday morning to warn of yet another COVID-19 Delta variant concern: severe cases of the disease affecting unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
The doctors said unvaccinated pregnant women face an increased risk of preterm births, long-term effects, preeclampsia, ICU stays, stillbirths, being put on life support and even death if they are unvaccinated.
"We are really concerned that we are not getting that population of folks to hear this message of the safety of vaccines, so today we're assembled, one and all to say, wear a mask and please get vaccinated," Walkes said. "Vaccinations are the way to prevent severe disease and hospitalizations and death."
Medical Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at St. David's Women's Center of Texas Dr. Kimberly DeStefano said 95% of pregnant women admitted with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, stressing that all pregnant and lactating women should get the vaccine not only to protect themselves but to protect their babies from infection, which can be passed through breastmilk or birth.
"We know that the earlier in pregnancy you are vaccinated, the more antibodies are present at the time of birth for the infant," DeStefano said. "This is something that's very important, both during the pregnancy and postpartum."
Catching COVID-19 while pregnant can cause adverse effects on the baby, particularly because it increases the risk of preterm births. Baylor Scott & White Maternal Obstetrics Chief of Maternal Medicine Dr. Jessica Ehrig, said that preterm births are one of the "biggest impacts" on childhood development.
"We know that (preterm births) can have long-term effects depending on how early a baby's born," Ehrig said. "It increases the risk for long term respiratory issues, for blindness sometimes (and) for neurologic development delays."
Since mid-July, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on a steep rise that sent the city back to recommending Stage 4 guidelines. As the seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations surpassed 50 admissions, Stage 5 guidelines could be on the horizon. The city reported 54 new admissions and 546 total new cases on Friday.
Delta is more contagious than chickenpox, Walkes said, and even vaccinated individuals can catch and spread the virus without symptoms. The group of doctors asked everyone, especially pregnant women, to mask while in public as local hospitals pass the Stage 5 threshold.
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