In “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton,” Jeff Pearlman chronicles Payton’s life from his childhood in Mississippi and battle with a rare liver disease and death from bile duct cancer in 1999.
Excerpts in Sports Illustrated relate tales of Payton’s extramarital affairs, including a scene in Canton, Ohio, when Payton took both his wife and girlfriend to his Hall of Fame induction. Payton, Pearlman writes in detail, battled depression and was addicted to painkillers during his playing career and afterward.
Payton’s family responded with a statement issued to Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune. “Walter, like all of us, wasn't perfect,” Walter Payton’s widow, Connie, said. “The challenges he faced were well known to those of us who loved and lived with him. He was a great father to Jarrett and Brittney and held a special place in the football world and the Chicago community. Recent disclosures — some true, some untrue — do not change this. I'm saddened that anyone would attempt to profit from these stories, many told by people with little credibility.”
The Bears also spoke up, issuing a statement in which the team said its feelings for Payton were unchanged:
“The Chicago Bears had the unique honor and privilege of having Walter Payton as a part of our organization for over two decades as both a player and board member. We believe his competitive spirit lives with us today. When we take the field each Sunday, we represent the great players like Walter who helped build the rich tradition of our organization. Nothing will change our feelings for a man we have the deepest respect for and miss having around Halas Hall to this day.”
For his part, Pearlman said he set out only to “write a definitive” work.
“It hurts me that this will hurt his kids,” he told SI.com. “It really does because Jarrett and Brittney are wonderful, engaging, fun, caring people and they're really uplifting figures in the Chicago landscape ... That said, I set out to write a definitive biography — period. When people would ask, 'Well, is this going to be positive?' I'd say, 'Not positive, not negative — definitive.’ ”
Gallery: Walter Payton’s life in photos