Thousands of fans attending Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Atlanta are poised to witness an intense match-up between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs.
And they will do so in the company of the president of the United States — and some are vowing to use the opportunity to protest.
President Donald Trump is expected to attend the highly anticipated Alabama vs. Georgia championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday. Meanwhile, groups like the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP and Refuse Fascism are planning demonstrations and protests in and outside of the venue.
The game will also feature a halftime performance Grammy-award winning artist Kendrick Lamar, who has been critical of the president in the past. Some are expecting Lamar to use the moment to criticize Trump again.
The game is expected to kick off at 8 p.m. ET, and local police worked with the Secret Service to ensure security at the event, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
Trump’s appearance at the college football championship game follows a year of feuding with the National Football League over demonstrations by players and team officials during the National Anthem.
Making an appearance at a big college football game is nothing new for those who have held the office. For decades, presidents have attended the Army vs. Navy football game held typically in December. Trump attended the Army vs. Navy game when he was president-elect in December 2016, and former President Barack Obama attended during his first term in 2011.
Here’s what to expect from Trump’s attendance at the biggest game this season in college football.
Atlanta’s chapter of the NAACP is encouraging attendees to bring white towels to twirl in the air during the game to capture Trump’s attention — and play on a motif often used by Trump and his supporters to describe the opposition.
“Trump supporters mockingly call the opposition snowflakes, but when we come together we create a mighty storm,” the NAACP Atlanta wrote in a Facebook post Sunday.
The organization said Trump “has made a terrible decision and is disrupting [the game] with his presence.” The chapter will also start a “Twitter storm” at 6 p.m. Monday using the hashtag #AllTrumpLies, according to the Associated Press.
Additionally, the group Refuse Fascism plans to hold a demonstration outside of the stadium Monday at the CNN Center. Attendees will “take a knee against Trump” at 6 p.m. ET. On Facebook, organizers not only pointed to Trump’s overall rhetoric, but also his targeting of Civil Rights icon and Democratic Congressman John Lewis, who represents a Georgia district that includes Metro Atlanta.
Kendrick Lamar’s halftime show
The first-ever halftime show at the College Football National Championship will feature Kendrick Lamar performing in a nearby park in Atlanta, instead of on the field. The performance “will be integrated into halftime of ESPN’s telecast” of the game, ESPN said in a statement.
Lamar’s discography has long explored issues of politics and identity, with songs addressing police brutality in America, and others directly criticizing conservative commentators on Fox News and the president himself.
“D.N.A.”, one of the stand-out hits from Lamar’s 2017 album DAMN., uses audio of a Fox News segment that criticized his 2015 hit “Alright.” The New York Times described “Alright” as the “unifying soundtrack to Black Lives Matter protests nationwide.”
“This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to African Americans than racism in recent years,” commentator Geraldo Rivera said in the 2015 Fox News segment featured in “D.N.A.”
In Lamar’s 2017 track “The Heart Part 4,” the rapper targeted Trump directly. “Donald Trump is a chump, you know how we feel, punk / Tell ’em that God comin’ / And Russia need a replay button, y’all up to something,” his lyrics read.
Certainly, speculation that Lamar’s set could include pointed commentary on the president is similar to those who expected Lady Gaga to do the same at her Super Bowl halftime performance in Feb. 2017. Gaga did not call out Trump directly, but some said her songs about advocacy and diversity were political in themselves.
Lamar, a seven-time Grammy Award winning artist, is up for another seven awards this year with his 2017 hit album DAMN.
National Anthem controversies
While Trump has sparred with the NFL over “take a knee” protests during the NationalAnthem ahead of games this season, demonstrations on a smaller scale have reached college games — including from fans at Alabama and Georgia games.
At most college football games, however, the NationalAnthem plays before the players are out on the field — making protests similar to those seen in the NFL more difficult to pull off.
In October, Vice President Mike Pence left an Indianapolis Colts game early after players knelt during the National Anthem. “I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” Pence wrote in a statement after he left.
Trump later tweeted that he told Pence to leave the stadium “if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country.”
Though their teams aren’t typically on the field when the anthem plays, Alabama coach Nick Saban and Georgia coach Kirby Smart have made statements on the issue.
Saban has said he respects “everyone’s right not to be censored” but added that he “would not want to ever disrespect the symbols that represent the values of our country,” according to SB Nation. Smart said the issue has come up in his team’s leadership committee meetings — in 2016 more than in 2017. “We let those guys bring it up and talk about things when they need to and address it as a team, but that’s not one that’s come up regularly,” Smart said, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.