A mix of cheers and boos roared through Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, as President Donald Trump took the field before the College Football Playoff National Championship between the University of Alabama and University of Georgia on Monday night.
Trump walked on to the field before the start of the National Anthem, flanked by Alabama and Georgia ROTC members, gesturing to the stands. He stood with his hand on his heart on the field during the rendition sung by the Zac Brown Band, accompanied by a Georgia gospel choir, David Walker & High Praise.
College players traditionally stay inside the locker rooms until after the National Anthem, so the the two teams vying for the championship weren’t on the field during Trump’s appearance. Trump has targeted the NFL and some of its players who have protested racial injustice by taking a knee during the National Anthem.
Trump referenced the protests, saying “we want our National Anthem respected, also” in a speech he made hours before kickoff during his address to the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention in Nashville.
We are fighting for our farmers, for our country, and for our GREAT AMERICAN FLAG. We want our flag respected - and we want our NATIONAL ANTHEM respected also! pic.twitter.com/16eOLXg6Fi— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2018
But no such protests took place on the field on Monday. Some organizations did vow to demonstrate against the president before and during the game. The NAACP Atlanta chapter had called on fans in the stadium to wear white and wave white towels in a “snowflake” protest, an attempt to flip the frequent taunt against liberals.
A few dozen anti-Trump protesters also gathered in the cold rain before the start of the game, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Trump’s presence did cause some disruption ahead of the game as a result of security (manned by Secret Service) and presidential gridlock — all fairly normal for a commander-in-chief attending a high-profile sporting event. Still, his motorcade was met with boos when it arrived at the stadium, possibly because thousands of fans were waiting outside in the chilly rain and eager to get inside before kickoff.
They locked down @MBStadium for @realDonaldTrump an hour ago and myself and a thousand fans have been waiting in the rain to get in. Let’s just say there were plenty of boos when Trump arrived pic.twitter.com/6XIr8YO5gO— Andy Scholes (@AndyScholesCNN) January 8, 2018
This is Trump’s first cameo at a college football game since his inauguration, and he’s appearing before fans of two SEC schools — Alabama and Georgia — whose states he won. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee, in one of her first briefings of the new year, had congratulated both schools’ on their victories to get to the championships, describing both as “in the heart of Trump country.”
Correction: Trump attended the Army-Navy game in December 2016 after his election. Monday’s National Championship was his first football game as president.