The Chicago Bears have denied any involvement with the Ruth Institute, an anti-gay marriage group that is affiliated with another anti-gay marriage group, the National Organization For Marriage.
A recent online promotion and April 3 email by the Ruth Institute claimed that the Chicago Bears "supported" their anti-gay marriage message, reports the EqualityMatters.org.
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To promote their "Festive Gala Event," the Ruth Institute stated: "For now, you should know that we have two fabulous raffle items from the Chicago Bears Organization (and a huge THANK YOU to the Bears for supporting our message)."
According to the Chicago Tribune. the raffle items included an autographed Brian Urlacher jersey and an autographed photo of Bears' Hall of Famer Walter Payton, who passed away in 1999.
"I sign a lot of stuff for charity and I don't always know where it goes," Urlacher told the Chicago Tribune. "If I would have known it was for this cause, I wouldn't have done it."
"This is the first I've heard of it," said Payton's older brother Eddie Payton. "Walter treated everybody equal. Only Walter could speak for himself, but it's a touchy subject. It should be a non-subject."
The Chicago Bears issued a statement, which said in part: "The two items featured in the Ruth Institute gala invitation were personal donations to [President] Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse. Neither was a club donation, nor do they represent the team's view on any social issues. Any remarks stating otherwise are false."
Later, Morse also issued a statement: "The Ruth Institute is not working with the Chicago Bears organization or any of its players past or present to promote our upcoming auction. The memorabilia we are auctioning off was acquired by me personally, not through the team or players. We understand that the Chicago Bears organization takes no position on social issues, and we regret any confusion we may have caused on this point."