Trump’s sports kick is about politics, but fans have a say

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is on a sports kick.

He’s attended a World Series game, hosted the champion Washington Nationals , gone to New York for a mixed martial arts tournament and gotten in some chilly rounds of golf. And on Saturday, he planned to be at the college football showdown between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Trump’s re-election campaign has made the most of sporting events by airing a pricey television ad during the World Series.

Trump attended Game 5 of the series and days later brought the Nationals to the White House. He had a close-up seat for the Ultimate Fighting Championship at Madison Square Garden. Next month, Trump might flip a coin again at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, continuing a presidential tradition dating to President Theodore Roosevelt. In January 2018, Trump attended the Alabama-Georgia national title game in Atlanta.

Presidents have long used sporting events to woo support, but these events also are a venue for fans to express their own political leanings.

Both loud boos and cheers could be heard as Trump took his seat ahead of the recent pay-per-view UFC title match. That greeting was warmer than the reception Trump received at the World Series at Nationals Park, when he was roundly booed and became the target of a “Lock him up!” chant.

He’s headed to friendlier turf for Saturday’s big game.

“I love Alabama,” Trump said Friday. “I’m going to go watch a very good football game, which is tomorrow with LSU, and it’s going to be great”

Still, even in Alabama, where he won 63% of the vote in 2016, the president generated some controversy. Alabama’s student government association has warned students against being disruptive, but says their First Amendment rights will not being muzzled.

“Regardless of your political views, that’s pretty cool, having the president at the game,” said LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.

Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III said, “Just for him even wanting to come to this game, it just shows, like I said, the magnitude of the game.”

For Trump, the game is both football and politics.

He’s been studiously neutral in the Alabama-LSU matchup.

Trump has been enthusiastically supporting Republican businessman Eddie Rispone’s effort to unseat Louisiana’s incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in the last governor’s race of the year. The gubernatorial runoff election in Louisiana offers Trump an opportunity to pick up a win in a rare Democratic-held governor’s seat in the Deep South. He attended a rally in Monroe, Louisiana on Wednesday and he’ll be back in the state this coming week, two days before Louisiana voters head to polls.

“This Saturday, I’m going to be at a certain game. Let’s see, it’s LSU versus a pretty good team from Alabama,” Trump said in Monroe. “I hear you have a great quarterback. We’re going to see. But I’m actually going to the game. I said ‘That’s the game I want to go to.’ That will be tremendous. Two great teams.”

The game comes two days after Trump’s former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced he is going to run again for his old Senate seat from Alabama. Sessions was the first senator to back Trump’s upstart campaign and worked to champion conservative causes as attorney general, but the president has never forgiven Sessions for withdrawing from overseeing the Russia investigation led by former special counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump said Friday he won’t campaign against Sessions, but his weekend trip south could give him an opportunity to weigh in on the Senate race.

Some examples of presidents as football fans:

—President William Howard Taft attended the LSU-Sewanee game in October 1909 in New Orleans.

—President John F. Kennedy went to the Alabama-Oklahoma game on New Year’s Day in 1963 in Miami.

—In December 1969, President Richard Nixon was at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to watch Texas play Arkansas.

—President Bill Clinton watched Arkansas play Louisiana Tech in September 1997 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas.