President Donald Trump took the field Monday before Alabama and Georgia faced off in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Tens of thousands of fans filling the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta greeted Trump with cheers and a smattering of boos as ROTC members escorted him onto the field for the national anthem. The president stood with his hand over his heart and an American flag pin on his lapel, and sang a few words as Georgia's Zac Brown Band and a gospel choir performed the anthem.
Trump has criticized professional football players who kneel during the anthem to protest racial injustice, as well as the NFL itself for allowing it.
"We want our flag respected," Trump said earlier Monday during a speech in Nashville, Tennessee, "and we want our national anthem respected also."
The college teams remained in their locker rooms during the anthem.
The president watched the game from a private box overlooking the Alabama sideline flanked by ROTC students. The Tuscaloosa News reported that he was scheduled to appear on the Alabama radio broadcast during the game.
Trump departed the stadium during halftime as Georgia led Alabama 13-0. Rapper Kendrick Lamar, who has been a critic of the president, was set to perform during the break.
ESPN, which televised the game, said Sunday that a game-time interview with Trump was unlikely. Stephanie Druley, ESPN senior vice president for events and studio programs, said the network had been in contact with the White House and she did not "get the sense" that an interview would be arranged.
Trump criticized ESPN in October after "SportsCenter" host Jemelle Hill tweeted that he was a "white supremacist."
A network will often seek to interview the president when he attends a game it is televising.
Earlier, a few dozen protesters took a knee in cold, light rain on a sidewalk near the venue, shouting slogans against President Donald Trump.
A few police officers looked on at the small, peaceful protest as a leader with a bullhorn led chants in the direction of fans streaming past them before game time to Mercedez-Benz Stadium, about three blocks away.
"Black lives matter! Women's lives matter and immigrants' lives matter!" protesters chanted, some opening umbrellas against the rain. Three of them carried a sign that said, "The Trump-Pence Machine Must Go." Another sign in the group read, "Time's Up."
Tee Stern, with the group called Refuse Facism ATL, said the demonstration was called to "take a knee" against the Trump administration.
"We are getting the message out across the country to everyone that is agonizing and very angry and fearful of the fact that we are facing down a fascist regime and it needs to be stopped," Stern told The Associated Press.
The protest came ahead of Trump's scheduled arrival at the downtown Atlanta stadium.