Speaking over the weekend at a virtual conference for Christian men, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger acknowledged that he has fought off-the-field vices over the years.
"It's not always easy," Roethlisberger said, talking to Tunch Ilkin, a former Steelers player and one of the event's hosts. "People don't realize all the time that us athletes, we're human. We sin like everybody else. I am no different. We make mistakes. We get addicted to things. We sin. We're human. I think sometimes we get put on this pedestal where we can't make mistakes. I've fallen as short as anybody. 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.'"
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The event, ManUp Pittsburgh, is hosted annually by Urban Impact in connection with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. According to the group's mission, the 90-minute conference, held virtually on Father's Day this year, "encourages and teaches men to be godly leaders for their families, and raises awareness of the devastating impact of fatherlessness among youth today." Roethlisberger was part of the most recent program, which included Tomlin and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
Roethlisberger discussed his Christian journey and added that he was baptized three years ago, reaffirming his childhood baptism.
"Now more than ever, it's cool to be a Christian, especially professional athletes," Roethlisberger said. "One of the things I want to tell guys and tell people out there, I can be a really good athlete and a Christian. It's not one or the other. I can do both. I want it to be known to all of the young men out there. It's cool to be Christian and be an athlete. Go ahead and be the best athlete you can be and see if you can be a better Christian. And that's what I'm trying to do now. I'm trying to be a better Christian than I am athlete and football player. I push myself every day to do that and it starts here. It's not always easy."
Roethlisberger's faith hasn't always been at the forefront of his life. He admitted that he grew distant during his college career at Miami (Ohio).
Later, as a professional quarterback, he was twice accused of sexual assault, and he was suspended for part of the 2010 season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Roethlisberger admitted to Ilkin that he used his platform for selfish reasons early in his career, but said he has changed to be more selfless since becoming stronger in his faith.
"Last year, we went through a crazy offseason," he said. "All I thought about was getting back on the football field, and I was like, 'God, you're going to give me all this redemption. I'm going to go out there, I'm going to prove everybody wrong, I'm going to win a Super Bowl, and we're going to give you all the glory, and this is it. This is my comeback year.' And the second game, I tear my elbow. That was God being like, 'Hold on, it's not your plan of coming back. It's got to be my plan.' So I had to pump the brakes.
"Those are the wake-up calls that he gives us to say, 'Hold on now, don't be selfish and do it on your time. We're doing it on my time.'"
Roethlisberger said he was grateful to experience last year's season-ending elbow injury at a time when he had a close relationship with God.
"I'm so thankful that this injury happened during my walk that I'm in now," the 38-year-old quarterback said. "I don't know that I would've been able to handle it a few years ago, five, six, seven, 10 years ago. I know that my faith wouldn't have been as strong. Now that I know what it's about, it's easy to say, 'Hey, God, this is in your hands. I'm going to go train my butt off to get back out there, and whatever you have for me, I'm ready.'"