A tale of 2 Bears

Last week marked the release of and media circus for a new book about Walter Payton.   The revelations about his depression, girlfriend, or painkillers did not shock me.  Most of the stories about his busy life were circulated for years. If I had the spit knocked out of me like Walter Payton, I might shop for pain killers myself.  What shocks me is our need to elevate sports icons to sainted status.  And then, I am repulsed by the drooling delight people take in piercing their vaulted position so savagely.

I read the Sports Illustrated excerpt.  More than anything, it made me sad.  It is hard to do one thing so amazingly, and then have your body say “no more!”  At age 33, you are separated from that which has nourished you.  It is hard to re-invent yourself, though Walter never stopped trying, with forays into racing, attempts to get a NFL franchise, and establishing a restaurant empire.  He rarely said no to a request for fundraising.  He kept busy, but was apparently restless.

The excerpt was selected to sell the book, and so it contains salacious details of Walter’s philandering and his less than dignified induction into the Hall of Fame.  Maybe the weight of being Superman was too heavy.  Perhaps he tired of needing to be the Greatest Bear Ever.  Maybe he wanted to be able to step out of the manufactured imagery that Chicago fans wanted.  He certainly wished to spare his children the pain of a public unraveling.  Honestly- the most poignant part of the article described Walter Payton on a plane, sharing airspace with a kid going to Florida on a Make-a-Wish visit to Disneyland.  He spent time with that little boy, encouraged him to fight, and be tough.  Called him a hero.  That boy is 24 years old today, having survived.  This is a sweet tale about Sweetness; it is not surprising that this anecdote has not been recounted.  But it is sad.

Connie, Brittney, and Jarrett have comported themselves with dignity. We can support them by not speaking ill of the dead.  Or by donating to the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation.  This will help kids who have no lifeline get help, procure school supplies- have a chance at a future.  This book seeks to destroy a legacy for profit.  It is a better instinct to build a future for a kid.

I guess it is obvious that I will not be buying the book. Also,  I will not listen to shrill, hateful discussions on talk radio, excoriating Walter for cheating. Calling Connie an enabler who must have known.  What hogwash!   I will not accept the ephemoral notion that the painkilling drugs he took gave him cancer.  I will not call for his name to be taken off of a school.  Walter wanted to be the best at his job.  And he was.  That is worth celebrating.  MYOB was good advice before TMZ and Drudge.  It is even better advice now, when snooping is facilitated by the boundless reach of the internet.  Think of the time the average person could accumulate if he didn’t chase the underbelly of….everyone.

I will remember Walter Payton’s big smile, his determination to move forward without stepping out of bounds. Those high steps.  The fact that he played on a lot of very average teams, where he was the saving Sunday grace for fans.

I will respect the notion that trauma to the head can create brain disturbances, depression, and suicidal thoughts. I have giant respect for Matt Suhey,  his guardian angel.  I admire the teammates who rallied around him.  I disdain those who were paid by him, and then were paid by the author to betray his memory.

Walter died in 1999.  He gave us his Sundays, brought us a Superbowl, created awareness for organ donations, and made his peace.  He, nor his family, owe us one thing.

BEAR #2:  Dan Hampton.  Hampton doesn’t like Obama, and is peeved that family isn’t invited to the White House to celebrate the SuperBowl. So he says he won’t go.  Dan, don’t be a goose.  This is short sighted and foolish.

I think it is nice that the President is doing a “make-good” for the invitation that was cancelled when the space shuttle exploded.

Sure, as Dan says- it has been 25 years. I say- better late than never.  And never is exactly when 99% of all Americans will get into the White House, much less meet a sitting President.    SO GO.

It is one day, paid for by the McCaskeys. You can bond with old teammates.  Compare aches and pains.  Pass out business cards for the Back Clinic.  Sweet talk Virginia. Feel the amazing power of these United States. And be home to sleep in your own bed.

You are not declaring allegiance, Dan- just basking in your past glory.

I’ll bet Walter would love to visit the White House, and would rejoice that he was a micro-part of the civil rights journey that put Barack Obama in Washington.  Walter started high school at an all Black school, which was merged acrimoniesly with a local White school after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision was implemented, under duress, in Mississippi.   He lobbied for his Black coach to retain his head coach status.  He attended a traditional Black college, Jackson State, after being overlooked by most South Eastern universities. He never complained, he just competed with every  step he took.  Go for him, Dan. Celebrate.

My son, Patrick was honored to be with the Blackhawks when they visited after the Stanley Cup.  His wife was flown with the team, but security clearance kept her with the families, in the garden.   She was pregnant, unable to access a washroom , and she stood for 3 hours in the Rose Garden.  She will remember the honor of the day forever, seeing Mrs. Obama play street hockey with kids, seeing young Blackhawks players sneak video cameras in to record the President.

I can still remember my pre-9-11 visit to the White House.  We took a little tour, arranged by a friend who worked there.  In one side, out the other.  Fabulous!  The we lingered on the street for an hour on the chance that the President would drive by. He did.  It was a thrilling moment of molecular proximity- we were way outside of the gates, the limo had smoked glass- who knows who was inside?   These moments are far rarer since we conceded that the terrorists would literally kill to get into the White House.  You are fortunate, Dan Hampton.

Do not lose this chance forever, Dan.  Forever can be a long time- like the years between Super Bowls.  Accept the riches that life proffers.  Take a picture for your wife and family.  Puff out your chest and boast, I was an ’85 Bear. Drink in the moment; you earned it, you should savor it.  Shut up and Go. We want you to have this day.



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