Donald Trump spent Monday in the swing state of Pennsylvania, and he took the opportunity to cozy up to a crowd in Ambridge, located about 16 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The embattled Republican presidential candidate took a page from Steelers fans by waving a Terrible Towel, and he described that team’s star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, as “a friend.”
Trump even told an odd tale about a golf outing with Roethlisberger, but many online observers noted that his praise for the quarterback came at an awkward time, given that the latter has twice been involved in legal proceedings cases concerning rape accusations. Trump, of course, is still mired in his own campaign-rocking scandal, after lewd comments he made in 2005 recently came to light, leading some to accuse him of having committed sexual assaults.
“We love Big Ben,” Trump told his audience Monday. “Big Ben is a friend of mine.”
The real estate mogul then launched into a story about a time he hit the links with Roethlisberger. “He once hit a shot that went dead right into a tree, it was a massive tree,” Trump said (via Sopan Deb of CBS News).
“The ball hit the tree so hard, I swear I said, ‘Ben, within two years that tree is going to be dead,'” Trump continued. “And you know what? Two years later … that tree was dead. He is a strong guy, and a good guy, too. Big Ben.”
Roethlisberger has already been linked to the Trump campaign, as the two-time Super Bowl winner was reported to have been on a preliminary list of Republican convention speakers. However, the quarterback demurred, saying in June, “I’m not getting into politics during my playing career.”
In 2010, Roethlisberger was suspended six games (subsequently reduced to four) by the NFL following a case in which a 20-year-old college student accused him of forcing her to have sex with him in a Georgia nightclub. Prosecutors eventually decided not to pursue the case, citing a lack of evidence and cooperation by the woman. In 2012, Roethlisberger settled a case out of court involving another woman’s 2008 allegation that he raped her at a Lake Tahoe, Nev., hotel and casino.
This was also not the first time Trump raised eyebrows by invoking a Pennsylvania sports luminary while campaigning in that state. In April, he said at a rally in Pittsburgh, “How’s Joe Paterno? We’re gonna bring that back? Right? How about that whole deal?”