PITTSBURGH – Despite his off-field troubles, two local branches of national children's charities are standing by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Executives with Make-a-Wish and Ronald McDonald House told FOXSports.com that Roethlisberger is welcome to continue participating in their activities. Roethlisberger was recently suspended six games by the NFL for violating the league's personal conduct policy following inappropriate behavior at a Milledgeville, Ga. bar in March.
Judith Stone, the president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Make-A-Wish branch, admits she was "heartbroken and very surprised" when details surfaced about Roethlisberger's alleged actions and sexual misconduct. Stone, though, said that incident has no bearing on the work Roethlisberger does with her foundation. Roethlisberger is one of the most frequently requested Make-a-Wish athletes among children with life-threatening illnesses.
"Our relationship with Ben is exactly as it has always been. Nothing has changed," Stone said. "It's the child's wish. Of all the wishes in the whole world, if they want to meet Big Ben, that's the wish."
Stone said Roethlisberger has hosted Make-A-Wish children for four years at Steelers home games. She described him as being "wonderful with our special-needs kids."
"He's met with kids from all over country, not just our chapter," Stone said. "He's a hot commodity."
Roethlisberger also is the honorary local chairman of Ronald McDonald House Charities, which help provide financial assistance to in-need children with medical problems. Roethlisberger's foundation has donated $15,000 to the group. He also has provided expensive dinners for families staying inside the house.
"He is so good with our kids," Ronald McDonald House Charities of Pittsburgh executive director Barbara Reed Martin said. "When he talks to them, he makes them feel as if they were the only person in the room. When a kid isn't feeling good, he knows exactly what they need to hear to feel better."
Asked about whether the claims made against Roethlisberger would impact his work with Ronald McDonald House, Martin said, "We don't really know what happened (in Milledgeville) ... We want to invite anybody who cares about the well-being of kids and their families to work with us. He's definitely in that category."
As part of his NFL suspension, Roethlisberger is required to undergo a "comprehensive behavioral evaluation by medical professionals" before being allowed to resume practicing with the Steelers. Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old college student in a nightclub bathroom but criminal charges weren't filed after a police investigation.
Roethlisberger is still slated to conduct his annual youth football camp for boys and girls ages 7 to 14 from June 21 to 23 in Mars, Penn.