The NFL veteran and two-time Super Bowl champion, speaking to conference co-host Tunch Ilkin, says these days he’s “trying to be a better Christian than I am athlete and football player.”
Roethlisberger, nicknamed Big Ben, has been recovering from elbow surgery ahead of his 17th NFL season. The 38-year-old quarterback, who made headlines earlier in his career for questionable off-field behavior, credits Jesus and his wife, a strong Christian, for helping rekindle his faith.
Big Ben: ‘I’ve fallen as short as anybody’
Though he was raised in a Christian home and gave his life to Christ in middle school, Roethlisberger admits he didn’t retain that commitment during college. “It wasn’t like I stopped believing,” he says, “but you’re not sharpening your skills.” Experiencing instant fame contributed to the spiritual backsliding, says the first-round draft pick.
In 2010, Roethlisberger faced two separate sexual assault accusations. Though he wasn’t charged, the NFL suspended him for four games, and his reputation took a hit.
Fans tend to put pro athletes on a pedestal and forget they’re human, says the QB. “We sin like everybody else, [and] I am no different. We make mistakes. We get addicted to things. … I’ve fallen as short as anybody.”
Roethlisberger adds, “I’ve been addicted to alcohol. I’ve been addicted to pornography, which makes me then not the best husband, not the best father, not the best Christian I can be. But you have to dedicate yourself and understand that you can get out of it because of the grace of God and him saying, ‘Listen, you’re good enough for me the way you are. You don’t have to be perfect.’”
QB Finds Joy in Walking With Jesus
Faith became a priority again for Roethlisberger after his 2011 marriage to Ashley Harlan, his “best friend.” The couple now have three young children, and Roethlisberger says he’s had to remind himself to keep God first, followed by his wife and then his kids. Children can easily become the center of your universe, he notes, but kids need to know that their parents’ marital relationship comes first. “I want my kids to squirm in the kitchen because I’m kissing their mom,” he says with a smile.
Although Roethlisberger was baptized as a baby, he decided to get re-baptized three years ago. “I felt like I needed to do that,” he says. “I wanted to have a closer walk, a better relationship with Jesus…become a better person.” Rededicating his life to Christ as an adult, Roethlisberger says, has given him joy, happiness, and “truly a new life.”
The athlete ultimately credits his faith comeback to Jesus: “Jesus is the One who brought me back to him, and I’m so thankful for it, because I feel I’m a better Christian, a better husband, and a better father today because of his forgiveness of me.”
To all the men listening to the conference, Roethlisberger wanted to emphasize that “we fall short” and all it takes to get back into God’s good graces “is an ask” for forgiveness.
‘It’s cool to be a Christian’
Roethlisberger describes being humbled by last year’s injury—and grateful it occurred after his faith had been renewed. During the second game of the 2019 campaign, the QB who’d been eager for gridiron redemption tore his elbow and had to sit out the rest of the season.
“That was God being like, ‘Hold on, it’s not your plan of coming back. It’s got to be my plan,’” he says. “I’m so thankful that this injury happened during my walk that I’m in now. I don’t know that I would’ve been able to handle it a few years ago.”
Early in his career, Roethlisberger admits he wanted to use his platform for himself. Now, although he says he sometimes catches himself being selfish, he tries to use his platform for Jesus and “give all the glory to him.”
Being a Christian seems more acceptable for pro athletes these days, says Roethlisberger, who shares the message that faith and football aren’t mutually exclusive. “I think now more than ever it’s cool to be a Christian. It’s OK, especially for professional athletes,” he says. “I [can] be a really good athlete and a Christian. It’s not one or the other. You can do both. I want that to be known, especially to all you young men out there. It’s cool to be a Christian and be an athlete.”
The Steelers great says he pushes himself daily to grow spiritually, and that starts with God’s Word. When asked to share some favorite Bible verses, Roethlisberger mentioned the entire book of James—and specifically chapter 1, verses 12 and 19. The QB confesses that he’s a “horrible memorizer” but says daily devotions give him strength.
Conference Builds Godly Men
The ManUp Pittsburgh conference, sponsored by Urban Impact, typically attracts more than 1,500 men from the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event had to move online and was condensed. It’s free to watch after registering with CrowdCast.
According to its website, “ManUp encourages and teaches men to be godly leaders for their families and raises awareness of the devastating impact of fatherlessness among youth.” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who grew up without a father, partners with ManUp’s founder, the Rev. Ed Glover, for the annual conferences. Glover also founded Global Impact USA.
Tunch Ilkin, who interviewed Roethlisberger on Saturday, is now a Steelers broadcaster as well as a men’s ministry pastor. While speaking to Big Ben, Ilkin described how he converted from Islam to Christianity, largely thanks to the influence of his teammates. When Ilkin joined the Steelers in the early ’80s, “I met a bunch of guys that loved Jesus, loved each other, and loved me, and I was so attracted to them,” he says. “They all influenced me, and I wanted to meet Jesus.”