Unauthorized Payton biography upsets fans, teammates

September 29, 2011 6:10:13 PM PDT
Chicagoans are reacting to a book about Bears legend Walter Payton that contains allegations of infidelity, heavy use of painkillers and suicide threats.

Written by Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman, the book is titled "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton." Pearlman said he worked on the unauthorized biography for three years. It is due out next week.

Pearlman conducted nearly 700 interviews to piece together a more nuanced view of the football hero -- a portrait many who were close to the legend reject as unfair and irrelevant.

At the Ace of Fades on the city's Northwest Side, a man who blocked for Payton won't allow tales of the legend's woe to detract from the enormity of who he was.

"Got a chance to know the man in terms of what he gave back, in terms of being a humanitarian. He was always about family first," said former teammate Dennis McKinnon.

McKinnon, a 1980s wide receiver, played with Payton on the 1985 Super Bowl championship team. He had a locker across from Walter and if the legend had troubles with his home life, self-medication for pain, or that awful feeling of loneliness many athletes endure after their playing days are over, well, Payton was human after all.

"I don't think anyone 12 years later can tarnish our feelings and our love for Walter that will never change," he said.

Payton was a man all about movement, someone who used a game-day helmet five pounds heavier than in practice to keep battering ahead. The book describes a range of unusual behavior in his post-playing days, including calling personal assistants late at night, vocalizing thoughts of suicide, marital infidelity, and self-medicating with cocktails of painkillers that could not have been good for his body.

"For anybody to expect that Walter wasn't going to be under the same scrutiny is naive in my mind," said Rick Morrissey, Sun-Times sports writer.

"His was a disorder of the bile ducts," said Dr. Donald Jensen, director, University of Chicago Center for Liver Diseases.

A rare liver disease eventually killed Walter Payton in 1999, but it had nothing to do with what's described in the book.

"There is no relation between pain killer medications, alcohol consumption, any kind of recreational or medical therapy and the development of either sclerosa colangitis or bile duct cancer," said Dr. Jensen.

"He is a hero. He is the greatest," said Gregory Clifton.

"It is wrong that they bring up this dirty laundry this many years after he is gone. He was great for the city. He was great for the Bears. It doesn't change my view," said Laura Hewitt.

That's a sentiment shared by many of Payton's other teammates, including Otis Wilson who said he was a good friend and teammate and should be allowed to rest without others trying to profit from his life.

Load Comments