Mike Ditka called Walter Payton the greatest football player he's ever seen. For many of us, especially in Chicago, he was indeed just that. Not only is Payton beloved in the city, but also admired by the NFL as the league named the Man of the Year award after the late great.
As a sports town, Chicago celebrates the achievements of their athletes. This city has a rich history of sports stars and you can make a pretty good case that Payton was most beloved and admired, even more so than Michael Jordan. Payton is sacred in Chicago. He embodied (and still does) the soul of the city.
What made Payton special was not only his punishing running style and the way he played the game. He was also good to the fans. As a star among stars, he was an accessible athlete who often stopped to interact with fans. It was how he treated everyone that made people adore him. It was the reason why so many have the feeling of personally knowing him. If you talk to people from Chicago, they will have their own personal story to share of their encounter with Payton.
When reading the excerpt from Jeff Pearlman's biography of Walter Payton, "Sweetness", I admit that I wasn't going to read it with an open mind, more like a skeptical one. After reading the excerpt, I was disturbed, shocked and upset. These recent claims are the total opposite of what I have grown to know about one of my childhood idols. He was a clean cut family man and a good role model. He was different than other athletes as they have so often abused their privileges and have gone on to live troubled lives. Payton, everyone thought, was above that.
After taking some time to think about what I just read, I don't think I will ever understand the motive of writing this book other than profit. Some people want their personal and private lives to remain personal and private. I'm sure Walter wanted the same.
I will admit that the excerpt does humanize Payton. While I still maintain the book should have never been written and Pearlman should have minded his own business, the excerpt tells a story of a man trying to find his own happiness, something we all struggle with, after retiring from the game.
As for Pearlman's reason for writing this book, he explains that he was motivated by wanting to uncover Payton's introspectivness. Hmmm... okay. If that's the case, maybe the profits of this book should be donated to cancer research. I've read all of Payton's books and they've been inspiring. The books told stories of positivity and persevering through the challenges of life. Pearlman's book sheds a new light on the dark and lonely side of Payton's life.