A controversial new book about Chicago Bears legend and NFL Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton is already drawing harsh reactions from those who knew him well and the book doesn’t officially come out until Oct. 4.
But this book about Payton, who died in 1999, is striking a chord because of the grace and character in which played the game and the esteem he carried into retirement. According to reports, Jeff Pearlman’s Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton characterizes Payton as abusing prescription medication, being suicidal and cheating on his wife.
Payton’s former head coach with the Bears, Mike Ditka, didn’t hold back when the subject of the book came up during his appearance on the “Carmen, Jurko & Harry” on ESPN 1000.
"I think it's ridiculous to me," Ditka said Thursday on the show. "What's the point? What's the point? The point is one thing only — to sell books. That's all it's about. It's a bunch of crap, first of all."
"If you're going to wait 12 years after somebody's passed, come on. This is the sign of a gutless individual who would do this. Totally gutless who would hide behind that, and that's what he's done."
The timing does seem odd considering how long it has been since Payton’s death and the fact he retired from the NFL after the 1987 season. Payton was revered after retiring as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
But according to an ESPNChicago.com report, Pearlman describes Payton as depressed and suicidal during his post-retirement years in the mid-1990s.
"No. 1, I think it's utterly, utterly ridiculous and such an impulse, mindless, inane response," Pearlman said of Ditka. "First of all, yeah, I did it for the money. I took three years working on this book. Three years of my life devoted to this project. Who did I talk to? I talked to 678 people for this book. I interviewed as many people as humanly possible."
"I sat down with (Payton's son) Jarrett. I sat down with (Payton's daughter) Brittney. I sat down with (Payton's brother) Eddie. I sat down with his agent. I sat down with everyone I could possibly sit down with. I sat down with Mike Ditka at his bar in downtown Chicago."
"I understand the emotional reaction. I really do. He's emotional about it. This is a player he loved. I get it. I understand it. I also understand that Sports Illustrated ran a five-page excerpt with snippets from different parts of his life after his career was over. The book is 460 pages long."
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