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Politics And Football Mix Again, As Trump Cheers Return Of Big Ten Play

President Trump speaks to members of the press at the White House on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Trump praised the Big Ten's decision to resume the college football season at the end of October.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
President Trump speaks to members of the press at the White House on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Trump praised the Big Ten's decision to resume the college football season at the end of October.

Football and the presidential campaign have intersected yet again.

President Trump on Wednesday cheered the Big Ten Conference's decision to resume its college football season in late October.

"Great News: BIG TEN FOOTBALL IS BACK," Trump said on Twitter. "All teams to participate. Thank you to the players, coaches, parents, and all school representatives. Have a FANTASTIC SEASON! It is my great honor to have helped!!!"

The conference — which actually includes 14 universities, including huge schools from the presidential swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — announced Wednesday morning that its leadership voted unanimously to resume the football season starting the weekend of Oct. 23.

The president, along with many fans and players, have been calling on the conference to return to the field, and Trump reportedly spoke with the Big Ten's commissioner earlier this month.

"He made it very clear that he would help in any way that he possibly could to help us return to competition," Commissioner Kevin Warren told The New York Times.

It's unclear if the president's advocacy or offers of assistance affected the conference's decision.

The Big Ten announced in August it was sidelining football and other sports because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Other leagues, like the ACC and the SEC, have begun or are on schedule to resume their football seasons.

In voting Wednesday to resume the season, the Big Ten said it had "adopted significant medical protocols including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition."

The Big Ten's announcement only applies to football; the conference said updates to other sports would be made public "shortly."

Its football decision comes a day after the coach of the powerhouse Louisiana State University said that "most" of his team has either currently or previously contracted the coronavirus. Elsewhere, games have been postponed because of case clusters.

Many critics have wondered why there's such emphasis on getting football back in action, when school children across the country attend classes remotely, and other people and industries struggle to obtain mass testing.

Links to the presidential campaign

Trump's urging of college football to resume continues his broader efforts to return aspects of American life to normalcy, despite the still-raging pandemic.

In late August, Trump's opponent, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, released ads highlighting the canceling of sporting events, blaming the Trump administration for its handling of the pandemic.

The ads showed images of empty sports facilities, including "The Big House" — the massive football stadium at the University of Michigan.

More recently, the Biden campaign aired a minute-long ad during the NFL's opener, and the campaign told NPR that it already has reservations to run at least one ad nationally during each NFL game between now and Election Day.

The Trump campaign also aired an ad during the NFL opener.

Of course, the president has long interjected himself into pro football, criticizing players including Colin Kaepernick who have kneeled during the playing of the national anthem to protest police brutality and systemic racism.

Last month, Trump said he was working to get the NFL restarted "as long as they stand for our national anthem, as long as they honor our flag and our country."

The Republican National Convention, in late August, also had notable football connections, as three Black speakers were former NFL players. One of them, Herschel Walker, a two-time Pro Bowl running back, spoke about his long friendship with Trump and defended him against charges of racism.

In the '80s, Walker briefly played for the Trump-owned New Jersey Generals in the short-lived USFL.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ben Swasey is a deputy editor on the Washington Desk, covering politics and voting.