President Donald Trump was greeted with a booming chorus of cheers mixed with some boos as he took the field Monday for the national anthem ahead of the college football title game between Georgia and Alabama.
The president, flanked by military members, stood near the 40-yard line with his hand on his heart as the anthem played. Another wave of cheers and jeers followed him as he left the field.
Trump arrived in metro Atlanta around 6 p.m. to take in the all-Southeastern Conference matchup between the two powerhouses. His motorcade caused gridlock and long lines outside the sold-out stadium.
The president left the game shortly before halftime.
Before he arrived in Atlanta, he sharpened his criticism of athletes who refuse to stand during the national anthem, telling attendees at an agriculture meeting in Tennessee that “we love our flag and we love our anthem and we want to keep it that way.”
He added to applause: “We want our national anthem respected, too.”
The remarks came at an appearance at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in Nashville, which he attended with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
The president was to take in the game with Perdue, a former Georgia governor who was a walk-on Bulldogs football player, and Nick Ayers, a Georgia native and top aide to Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump left the stadium during halftime.
Trump has embraced college football amid an ongoing feud with the National Football League over players who protest during the national anthem against social injustice. His spokeswoman opened her first press conference this year celebrating Georgia and Alabama — “both in the heart of Trump country” — for playoff victories.
It is Trump’s second visit to Atlanta since he won the election, and several dozen demonstrators protested near the stadium. Some of them sought to remind him of his harsh words about the city: Before his inauguration, he said in a tweet that the congressional district that spans the city is in “horrible shape and falling apart.”
Those harsh words came shortly after U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who represents the heart of the city, announced he would boycott Trump’s inauguration. Shortly after arriving in Atlanta on Monday, he offered something of a truce to the city.
After Air Force One landed, Trump welcomed Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece, Alveda King, on board to sign a measure that grants Georgia its first national historic park. It will be at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site near downtown Atlanta.
The measure was long championed by Lewis, who praised the decision without mentioning the president.
“I hope that this moment will serve as a reminder of the constant work to realize Dr. King’s dream of building the Beloved Community - a community at peace with itself and our neighbors,” Lewis said.