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Alabama student government walks back warning against disruptions during Trump visit to LSU game

This article originally ran in The Washington Post. The author is Jacob Bogage, a national sports writer and blogger.

The University of Alabama’s student government found itself at the center of a Trump-fueled controversy Wednesday — mainly of its own making — with the president set to attend Saturday’s college football clash between No. 3 LSU and the second-ranked Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.

The issue began Tuesday when Jason Rothfarb, vice president of student affairs for Alabama’s Student Government Association, warned students that any “disruptive behavior” at the game would result in lost seating privileges for the remainder of the Crimson Tide’s schedule.

By Wednesday, after outcry on social media, both Rothfarb and the Alabama SGA had walked the statement back.

“The SGA strongly affirms its belief in free speech and the rights of all students to express their opinions,” the SGA’s Wednesday statement read.

Rothfarb, in a follow-up email published on social media, went further, according to AL.com.

“Some have misinterpreted my comment regarding ‘disruptive behavior.’ … By disruptive behavior, we are asking students to be respectful to all students and staff and avoid altercations,” Rothfarb wrote. “My email has nothing do with anyone’s First Amendment rights and I am sorry for any confusion. Please express yourself and especially your pride for the Tide.

Rothfarb also asked students to arrive at Bryant-Denny Stadium two hours ahead of kickoff to accommodate the extra security procedures necessary for Trump’s visit. Rothfarb did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Trump’s expected appearance will be the latest in a string of recent presidential trips to sporting events outside the controlled environments of his reelection rallies.

Trump was heartily booed at a recent appearance during the World Series at Nationals Park, where he heard chants of “Lock him up!” He then was met with more jeers at a UFC fight on Saturday at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The president, though, is likely to receive a much more positive reaction in Alabama. His approval rating in both states in September, the last month for which data is available, was 59 percent and 56 percent, respectively, according to Morning Consult.

Saturday marks the second Crimson Tide game Trump will have attended while in office. He stood on the field at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium with military personnel during the playing of the national anthem before the 2018 College Football Playoff championship game between Alabama and Georgia. Trump only stayed for the first half of the game.

He then hosted Alabama, which defeated the Bulldogs in overtime, 26-23, at the White House in April, where Coach Nick Saban presented him with a crimson No. 17 jersey with “TRUMP” on the back.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow told reporters on Monday he was excited to have Trump in attendance at Bryant-Denny Stadium, which will also host ESPN’s “College Gameday” and SEC Network’s “SEC Nation” live on campus before the game.

It will be the 25th time in college football history that the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll (LSU) meets the second-ranked team (Alabama) in the regular season.

“Regardless of your political views, that’s pretty cool, having the president at your game,” Burrow said, via USA Today. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. The president at the game is pretty cool.”

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