The song has been the subject of a controversy over the past few years as the school has reckoned with its origins likely tied to a minstrel show sung by performers in blackface. Former head coach Tom Herman was criticized for letting players choose whether they wanted to sing it.
At Sarkisian's introductory news conference in January 2021, he made a strong statement that it will not be a question going forward.
"I know this much, 'The Eyes of Texas' is our school song," he said. "We're going to sing that song. We're going to sing that proudly."
But on Saturday, after the loss, only a few players remained on the field in Stillwater for the song.
Sarkisian said. "I apologize to everybody for that. That'll never happen again. But again, it was not intentional. It was not premeditated by any means.
Texas Tribune in March 2021:
From June to late October, over 70% of the nearly 300 people who emailed [the UT-Austin President]’s office about "The Eyes" demanded the school keep playing it. Around 75 people in emails explicitly threatened to stop supporting the school financially, calling on the university to take a heavier hand with students and athletes they believed were disrespecting university tradition by protesting it.
"[Alumni] are pulling planned gifts, canceling donations, walking away from causes and programs that have been their passion for years, even decades and turning away in disgust. Last night one texted me at 1:00 am, trying to find a way to revoke a 7-figure donation," President of the Longhorn Alumni Band Charitable Fund Board of Trustees ... wrote to a group of administrators, including [the university president]. "This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. Real damage is being done every day by the ongoing silence."
Alumni and donors threatened to cancel season tickets, end donations and boycott games. They complained that [the university president] was not forcefully defending the song and school traditions enough, accusing him of cowing to political correctness.
May 2021, Texas Monthly wrote at length on the topic and described the song's origin:
A few hours later, Sinclair handed over a piece of brown paper, a wrapper torn from a laundry bundle. It contained the first draft of a poem, written in pencil, with words scratched out and revised. Lines five and six read, “The eyes of Texas are upon you, all the livelong day.” The line echoed the favored refrain of university president William Prather, who ended nearly every speech with the saying, hoping to encourage students to work hard and act with integrity. In a 1900 address, Prather explained to students that his saying was inspired by a Confederate brigadier general who once told his troops, “The eyes of General Lee are upon you!” Prather used the phrase so much that students started to make fun of him.