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

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

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is on a sports kick, taking in a baseball game, a mixed martial arts tournament and a college football game and getting in some chilly rounds of golf. Even his re-election campaign 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 hosted the victorious Washington Nationals at the White House. He watched the Ultimate Fighting Championship at Madison Square Garden in New York. On Saturday, he heads south to watch the two highest-ranked college football teams — Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama — face off in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And next month, Trump might flip a coin again at the Army-Navy game, continuing a presidential tradition dating to President Theodore Roosevelt.

Presidents have long used sporting events to woo support, but they 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 Ultimate Fighting Championship match in New York. That greeting was warmer than the reception Trump received at the World Series, when he was roundly booed and became the target of a "Lock him up!" chant.

He's headed to friendlier southern turf this weekend.

"I love Alabama," Trump said on 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 next week, two days before Louisiana voters head to polls.

President Donald Trump listens to the national anthem before the game between Georgia and Alabama in the 2018 CFP national championship college football game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

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"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 will be played in Tuscaloosa just 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 recusing himself from 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.

"We'll see how it all goes," the president said.

Saturday will be the second time Trump has attended a college football game as president. In January 2018, he attended Alabama versus Georgia national championship game in Atlanta. When he arrives at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, he'll be extending the long history of presidents attending college football games.

Some examples of presidents as football fans:

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

— President John F. Kennedy went to the Alabama versus 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.

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