If you’ve ever passed through Austin, Texas in your life, or been anywhere near a television when University of Texas Longhorns athletics is on the screen, you’ve seen it. That iconic symbol known as “Hook ‘Em Horns” is nothing more than a person’s middle two fingers held down by their thumb, while their index and pinky fingers are raised in the air, resembling (you guessed it) horns.
And as you’d expect with one of the winningest college football programs of all time, there are more than a few haters in the world. From the West Virginia Mountaineers to the Oklahoma Sooners, the counter to Texas’ iconic gesture became known as ‘Horns Down,’ which is just the same thing upside down. And starting next season, any player who flashes that symbol during a game could receive an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from Big 12 officials.
Why is Horns Down a Penalty?
At Big 12 Media Days in Arlington, Greg Burks, the conference’s coordinator of officials, was asked about the ‘Horns Down’ gesture and how the league will be handling it this upcoming season. Without giving a definitive answer, Burks simply stated any potential 15-yard penalty for taunting will be up to the discretion of that game’s officials.
“The answer I will give you is “it depends”. It’s like any unsportsmanlike act. If somebody scores quickly, turns to their cheering section, and it’s quick and they move on, we’re not going to do anything with that. If it’s to a bench or to another player, and it’s prolonged, it would be an unsportsmanlike act.”
— Big 12 Coordinator of Officials Greg Burks
Burks added that players wanting to taunt UT should “do it in their bench area” because at that point, officials are “not going to look at it.”
Previously, the conference did not have an official ruling on ‘Horns Down.’ However, in last year’s thrilling 42-41 win over the Longhorns, former WVU quarterback Will Grier and wide receiver David Sills V were separately flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after flashing the Horns Down gesture following scores.
While this sounds like borderline whining by the Longhorn faithful, the hand sign means more than just playful rivalry banter to that community. Back in 2012, legendary UT head coach Mack Brown called the hand gesture “disrespectful” and added the conference “ought to talk about that as a league.”
“I remember every single team/player that disrespects the rich tradition of the University of Texas by putting the Horns down,” UT quarterback Sam Ehlinger said in a tweet after the WVU game. “Do not think it will be forgotten in the future.”
Teams mock Florida’s “Gator Chomp” every single year. Opposing fans love doing the “Tomahawk Chop” when Florida State is getting beaten. Team chants like LSU’s Neck or Alabama’s Rammer Jammer were created to talk smack on their rivals.
‘Horns Down’ is a subtle, non-verbal jab at Texas fans. The fact that this is now penalty-worthy, honestly, is a little ridiculous. But this is the Big 12, and without the University of Texas in it, there wouldn’t be much of a conference to begin with.