- "We love Big Ben. Big Ben is a friend of mine. Big Ben is great. We play golf together," Trump said
- Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in 2009 and 2010
WARNING: This story contains graphic language.
Ambridge, Pennsylvania (CNN) — Donald Trump kicked off his first rally since audio of him bragging about being able to grope women surfaced last Friday by praising his "friend," star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of the local Pittsburgh Steelers.
Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in 2009 and 2010. Roethlisberger did not face criminal charges in either case and denied any wrongdoing.
He settled a lawsuit involving one of the cases and was suspended for four games from the NFL at the beginning of the 2010 season.
"We love Big Ben. Big Ben is a friend of mine. Big Ben is great. We play golf together," Trump said Monday after taking the stage swinging what appeared to be a "Terrible Towel," the Steelers' signature rally towel. "He is a strong guy, and he is a good guy, too, Big Ben."
Trump's praise for the football player came as the GOP nominee continued to defend comments he made during a lewd conversation that was recorded by a hot mic in 2005 as "locker room talk."
Trump in that conversation bragged about being able kiss women and "grab them by the pussy" because of his "star" status, actions that would amount to sexual assault.
Trump frequently praises local sports figures during his political rallies and has previously touted Roethlisberger in Pennsylvania, including when he said in April: "How good is Ben, Big Ben? Do we love Big Ben?"
Roethlisberger has said that he and Trump have played golf together, but has declined to dive into politics and endorse the Republican nominee.
Roethlisberger is not the only controversial sports figure Trump has praised.
Also speaking in Pennsylvania, Trump has also previously lauded the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who allegedly knew of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse toward children and did not notify authorities.