Football and Donald Trump: that’s what Alabama does.
Okay. That’s a slight deviation from the actual “Wedding Crashers” quote, but it’s accurate, nonetheless. In 2016, Trump won Alabama by almost 63 percent. It was the largest margin of victory in a presidential election since 1972.
Alabama isn’t Trump’s only stronghold in the South. He scored presidential touchdowns in all 11 states of the Southeastern Conference. That means many of those Bulldog fans chanting “Glory, Glory to old Georgia” undoubtedly will also pay some of that homage to Trump. Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban may be looking to win his fifth national title in nine seasons, but between two Republican electoral strongholds playing the title game Monday, Trump is guaranteed a victory regardless.
However, as always, the best Trump can hope for is a participation trophy from the media. In just one week leading up to the College Football Playoff National Championship, Katie Nolan, a social media contributor for ESPN, called Trump a “stupid person.” ESPN issued a statement on Saturday claiming the network “looked into the totality of Nolan’s comments,” adding “they were inappropriate and we have addressed it with her.”
That same week, Max Kellerman, a host of ESPN’s “First Take,” slammed the Houston Astros for accepting an invitation to the White House.
“It says they’re making a grave error and they’re on the wrong side of history,” Kellerman said. “And I want to be very clear about this: This has nothing to do with where on the political spectrum you fall, left or right. Nothing. It’s not about being progressive or conservative or Democrat or Republican or winning or losing. That’s not what this is about. Elections. I say what I say because what has gone on in this administration is abnormal and must not be normalized.”
Kellerman elaborated. “To do anything to normalize what is going on right now has nothing to do with being a Republican or Democrat or who you’re rooting for politically. It has to do with equal protection under the law and constitutionality and being a patriotic American citizen. You do not normalize this behavior with White House visits. Period.”
Now, it’s the White House’s turn to pay a visit. As Trump attends the game, the Secret Service will ensure as much “normalization” as possible in terms of safety concerns, but all indications show media coverage will likely be anything but normal. The camera will undoubtedly pan to him frequently—particularly during the national anthem.
Trump aggressively took on National Football League player protests last October. In the span of one month, 12 percent of Trump’s 311 tweets were NFL-related. If any of the collegiate players decide to kneel to protest Trump’s presence, it’s a safe bet the president will tweet about it.
The even safer bet lies in media coverage obsessing over Trump as they champion protesters of past, present, and potentially future. Conversely, the majority of Southerners will approve of Trump’s stance. The president’s visit will once again illustrate an ongoing disconnect between what average Americans want juxtaposed against popular media opinion.
If we’re really rolling the dice here, we should gamble on Trump ensuring more people, including political pundits, will tune into the game. Last year, 25.7 million people watched Clemson beat Alabama, a 23 percent dip from the previous year’s Ohio State versus Oregon match-up. Viewership will surely increase given Trump’s ability to pull in clicks and remote controls. So, while left-leaning personalities bash Trump, TV execs will thank him behind closed doors.
Under the pomp and circumstance of a flyover visit, millions of viewers, and the thick patriotism of southern fans, Monday night will be the perfect microcosm of President Trump’s presidency. Yet, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, Trump will not receive the same subtle, endorsing, and copasetic treatment by sports media. Buckle up.