ATLANTA — The magnitude of having President Trump in the stands for Monday night’s college football national championship game is not lost on the players, nor is the hoopla that comes with it.
But they say none of it will be a distraction.
“I don’t care who’s coming to the game,” Crimson Tide linebacker Raashan Evans said. “I just want to win.”
The big game between Georgia and Alabama provides a huge stage for Trump supporters and detractors to express their views, and Atlanta city officials expect some people to do just that outside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The city is expecting 100,000 people for events connected with the title game and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has promised a “safe, smooth and secure” championship despite the presidential motorcade in Atlanta’s typically crowded downtown.
Players on both sides aren’t overly concerned — either about pending protests or having the nation’s chief executive at the game.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Alabama punter JK Scott said. “I’m not worried at all.”
Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith was happy about Trump’s planned visit, too.
“It’s pretty awesome having the president come to the game,” he said. “Definitely think it’s great.”
Not everyone coming will share that opinion.
Kendrick Lamar, who has criticized Trump often in song, will perform at halftime of the game just outside the stadium, prompting questions whether he could fold some sort of demonstration into his performance.
Lamar referenced the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with Russia in a track from his most recent release, the critically acclaimed Damn, which is nominated for Album of the Year at this month’s Grammys. In The Heart Part 4 he says: “Donald Trump is a chump, know how we feel, punk / Tell ’em that God comin’ / And Russia need a replay button, y’all up to something”’.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he and his players weren’t concerned about anything that wasn’t part of the game, including a visit by Trump.
“You know, that’s a political event, and to be honest with you, we’re focused on Alabama,” he said.
Smart’s counterpart, Alabama coach Nick Saban, didn’t get into potential distractions like possible protests — saying he has great respect for the office of the president of the United States.
“It would be an honor, whoever was in that position, if they chose to come to see the college football national championship game,” he said.
Alabama linebacker Evans said the president on scene is just another indication of how big a deal college football’s title game is.
“That kind of shows you the significance of the game, the president deciding he was going to come to a game like this,” he said. “It shows you how important a game like this is. I definitely don’t take it lightly.”
AP College Football Writer Ralph Russo and AP Sports Writer Charles Odum contributed to this report.