President Donald Trump said during a White House news briefing Wednesday afternoon that LSU coach Ed Orgeron spoke to him on the phone about playing college football this fall.
Trump did not say when the call occurred or the details within it, but the conversation focused on a mutual interest in continuing to play while college football’s conferences weigh postponing fall sports because of concerns with the coronavirus pandemic.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 became the first Power 5 conferences to postpone football on Tuesday, a decision that was made even after large groups of coaches and players joined a national outcry under the “We Want To Play” Movement.
Those voices managed only to slow the momentum for a day within those conferences — but the outcry included people within the Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference and may have had some influence on their decisions to move forward as scheduled.
Several SEC players began tweeting support for a season Monday using the slogan, #WeWantToPlay — a phrase star LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase also posted Sunday night. The Biletnikoff Award winner’s father, Jimmy, said last week that Chase is “locked in” for the 2020 season.
Trump promoted the movement himself, quote-tweeting a post by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Trump said Wednesday that Lawrence was also among the people with whom he spoke.
“I spoke to some of the great football players, college players,” Trump said. “Trevor, and lot of great players called. Coach called. Coach O. Lot of fantastic people I got to speak to. Athletes. Leaders. They want to play football. Let ’em play. Let ’em play.”
An LSU official later clarified that Trump initially called Orgeron, who returned his call.
Orgeron and Trump have developed an association in the past year. Trump attended two LSU football games in 2019 and called Orgeron after the Tigers beat Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl. The two met when LSU visited the White House in January after winning the national championship.
Vice President Mike Pence, chairman of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, traveled to Baton Rouge in mid-July to speak with higher education leaders and encourage Louisiana to reopen K-12 schools and its colleges for in-person instruction.
Orgeron joined Pence in promoting playing college football. The Larose native spoke of the steps LSU has taken in its protocol since players returned to campus June 8, and said the situation “can be handled.”
“I don’t think we can take this away from our players, take this away from our state and our country,” Orgeron said then. “We need football. Football is the lifeblood of our country.”
Orgeron’s message hasn’t much changed since the team’s initial outbreak when players first returned. The total number of cases at the time focused around a group of five to six players, a source told The Advocate then, and no players were hospitalized and each case showed mild symptoms.
LSU has declined comment on specifics regarding coronavirus cases within its athletic department, and it has not independently released updates and case numbers like other schools such as Clemson, Kansas State and Texas.
Orgeron told WNXX-FM, 104.5 on Tuesday the team has “very few guys that have it” and most of the players who contracted the virus were asymptomatic.
Senior linebacker Travez Moore shared his experience with COVID-19 last week on Twitter, saying he lost 27 pounds, lost appetite and had difficulty breathing.
“Bro coronavirus is real,” wrote Moore, who recorded three tackles, a half tackle for loss and half a sack in 2019.
On Saturday, senior defensive lineman Neil Farrell became the first LSU player to opt out of the season. Orgeron said he supported Farrell’s choice. The SEC announced in July that players who choose to sit out the season due to health concerns will still have their scholarships honored.
Farrell posted a message on Twitter that said the virus has hit his family hard and that his grandmother is currently battling the virus in the hospital.
Coronavirus still has a significant hold in Louisiana. The Louisiana Department of Health reported 1,179 new cases on Wednesday with 43 new deaths.
Orgeron has long insisted that LSU can play football safely. The SEC released its coronavirus protocols Friday, which said the league will coordinate testing with a third-party provider at least twice a week during the season, and schools are urged to find a way to test a third time.
Orgeron has appeared on Fox News three times since the pandemic began. Twice, he appeared on “Your World” with Neil Cavuto. In March, Orgeron said people needed to take the sickness “seriously.” In mid-July, he said “I do believe we need to play football.”
“I think the country needs it,” Orgeron said. “I think the state of Louisiana needs it. The economy needs it. We all need it.”
On Tuesday, Orgeron said on “America’s Newsroom” that “we’re prepared to play, and we’re prepared to win.”
Host Sandra Smith played an interview for Orgeron in which Trump said Orgeron and Alabama coach Nick Saban are “great people and they want to play football, and they know better than anyone else.”
Smith asked Orgeron for his reaction to the clip.
“It makes me proud,” Orgeron said. “I love President Trump. He treated us very well. We went through the White House. I think he’s doing a fantastic job.”
Former LSU linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, selected in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2020 NFL draft, tweeted about Orgeron’s Fox News appearance on Tuesday, saying Orgeron “is a great man and I know he didn’t mean any harm by this,” but said Orgeron only knows and cares about football and “is blind to everything else.”