The Truth

So yesterday was, ahem, weird. Lots of positivity. Lots of anger and hostility and threats. I woke up knowing an excerpt of my Walter Payton biography would be on the cover of Sports Illustrated; knowing it would be a day unlike most others.

I wrapped up my day by attending synagogue for the opening night of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

A weird day.

I’m not sure if people—the angry people—understand or care to understand. Two and a half years ago, when I embarked on this project, Chicagoans were—across the board—elated. “Walter Payton! What a great subject for a biography! Awesome!” And they were right. Walter Payton is a great subject for a biography. He’s an icon. He’s beloved. He’s misunderstood. He’s mysterious. Truthfully, I’ve never come across a better subject. Ever. But here’s the thing—”definitive” biography means definitive. To try and tackle a man’s life—his entire life—is daunting. Of course, you write about the touchdowns and the bootlegs; about 275 yards (with a screaming-high fever) and Super Bowl XX and Jim McMahon and Willie Gault. But, and this is the rough part, you are not a public relations executive. You are a journalist, trying to paint the full picture. The FULL picture. You have to, in the name of honesty; in the name of authenticity. Otherwise, why have biographies at all? Why look back at the lives of JFK and Ronald Reagan and MLK and Malcolm X and Jim Morrison and Marilyn Monroe and on and on and on? What’s to learn … to understand … to appreciate if all we do is turn the deceased into unflawed icons?

What’s the point of history, if history can only be approved talking points?

Early on in this project, I learned that, on the biggest day of a football player’s career (his induction into the Hall of Fame), Walter Payton had his wife in row one and his girlfriend in row two. He was nervous … beyond nervous. Freaking out. Scared. Apprehensive. Here he was, about to be enshrined, and all he was consumed by angst.

You are writing a definitive biography of Walter Payton. Do you ignore such a moment.

Later on in this project, I learned of Walter Payton’s severe depression; of his repeated threats of suicide. Like many retired football players, he was lost and hurt and aimless; the game had used him up, and no longer had much use for him.

You are writing a definitive biography of Walter Payton. Do you ignore this, too?

The question I ask is: When is it OK to write about a late person’s shortcomings? When is it OK to look back at his life and analyze the highs and lows; ups and downs? Ever? Never? Maybe—as many detractors clearly feel—we’re better off floating on a cloud of ignorance. Maybe the Never Die Easy depiction of Walter Payton’s life—terrific family man, happy go lucky, not especially deep—is the way to go. Is it real? From a certain perspective, sure. But perhaps that’s all sports fans want; to believe their heroes are only heroes, and nothing else matters.

I don’t agree.

But I understand.

PS: This will come off as a money play, so let me put that to rest: Go to the library. Skim at the book shop. Borrow from a friend. I don’t care how you read Sweetness, but if you’re someone screaming and yelling, “How dare you! How dare you!” I encourage you to take in 460 pages, not seven. Go through the Columbia, Mississippi years; the Jackson State years; the down days in Chicago, when the Bears were a joke and Walter Payton was the only beacon of hope. If, after you’ve done that, you still think the book was a hit job, call me.

We’ll do lunch.

262 thoughts on “The Truth”

  1. How can one write a biography after one’s death. It supposed to be about their life. I don’t see how anyone could write this without actually being able to talk with the person it is about.

  2. honestly i think most of us know 700 people, or more, in which we have rubbed the wrong way throughout our lives. i am quite sure many of us have had dark moments in our lives we would like to erase. fortunately for most of us our story wouldnt sell books. to capitalize on this is wrong anyway you look at it. mr. pearlman i truely feel sorry for you. you are obviously a talented individual, but to hide behind so called journalistic integrity is sad. what about simple integrity, respect for his family. isnt there something to be said for r.i.p. if not, just man up and admit it was the money that inspired you to write something about a man so beloved that i am sure you have had malicious and hateful things said to you and about you. this book was a story that didnt need to be told.

  3. I understand you need to make a living and support your family, but why must you do this on the backs of others. There is a thing called an honest hard days work most of us true blooded Americans. We all have skeletons in our closets including you. Would you like me to write a book about how you peeded the bed when you were 7. Please. If this is the way you choose to make a living I feel sorry for you. I have a picture of Walter hanging in my office and every morning he gives me the drive to be a better person. I don’t need someone like you to Fuck that up. I suggest you stay out of Chicago for a long period.

  4. Mr. pearlman I know an auto biography is supposed to depict the truth and as a journalist you feel is your duty to do so. But what about the positive things they can also be the truth as well. Yes Walter Payton is a man loved and respected by many but he is a man, what person do you know in life that was perfect and did not have flaws or struggles. How would you want to be remembered in life Mr. pearlman through your flaws and struggles or your accomplishments and positive things sometimes it is a choice to decide between doing the right thing and doing what is right. we hear enough negative things in the world today through news and other sources but very few positives. Would this be boring, maybe but what if your kids look up to Walter Payton for inspiration would you want that to be the image left with them in life or give them something to strive for in achievement. Thank you for taking the time to read this Mr. pearlman and I hope you understand and I wish you the best.

  5. they say insects will inherit the Earth, to me Pearlman is an insect!

    I hope during a possible book signing that the anger you have created by attacking such a beloved sports figure comes back to you ten fold.

    I would love to know how Walter Payton’s family feels about this book, if they gave %100 support then I could swallow some of what has been written. But reading some of these posts it appears there not happy and with good reason.

    I guess you chose Walter because he is so beloved and you knew the controversy it would create. Mike Ditka was spot on calling you gutless, whatever is written on paper will never change my respect for Mr. Payton as a football player and as a person.

    good luck on the sale of your book, personally I plan to buy it and then burn it.

  6. You are a coward. I personal will not purchase your book, because you like to feed upon the negative on people’s lives. If you had any balls, you would’ve released the book when he was alive. Not when he was dead and unable to defend himself. You will do anything to make a buck. Spineless, greedy, and so-on

  7. I understand the honesty concept of journalism, however I’m always perplexed why biographers feel they have the right to expose private matters about someone’s life in print without permission. We all have things in our lives we aren’t especially proud of. I have to ask Jeff how you would feel if someone wrote a biography on your life – even the most intimate details that you would prefer to keep private.

  8. Hello Jeff

    How can you defend your book as the truth. Jeff this book was written for your personal gain – both recognition and money for you. End of story. Have you considered donating proceeds to a good cause. If not, then you are the problem.

  9. Walter the Great #34 was an still is my hero. What this book says means nothing to me. I played sports as well as my 2 boys and all of us have worn the #34 in everyone of them. I will not let this weazel change what his memory is to me and my boys. Do not buy the book let the writer and publisher lose their butts on it.

  10. “The defense of journalism” is analagous with polishing a turd. Kudos all you journalism graduates slaving away for 30K and waiting for the next famous dead guy to write-up to make a quick buck. “Just read my book” shine that turd Jeffie… !!

  11. As a fellow historian, I plan to borrow your book to carefully review the footnotes that support your alleged “truth”. This portait you paint as the alleged “truth” does not fit with the person many of us in Chicago knew. It seems to be more a portrait imagined by a guy who got a big fat advance to sling unsubstantiated dirt and sell books off the dead body of a Chicago icon. You have officially become in the sports world, what Geoffery Giulliano is in the world of music history. Sad.

  12. The personal attacks on Jeff are ignorant and unfounded. The vitriolic, emotional responses to a person writing an honest biography is beyond my comprehension. I’ve read dozens of biographies of deceased celebrities, politicians, musicians and athletes that paint honest, painful, but ulimately truthful accounts of the person. Never have I seen such a mindless reaction to the depiction of honesty. It appears that sports in this nation has become a warped, anti-intellectual existence. T

    1. You are making an assumption that the book is an honest biography. We may never know for sure, but there are a some red flags here that indicate that it more than likely not 100% honest.

      1) Payton’s family has released a statement stating that not all portions of what’s been released so far from the book are true.

      2) The scandalous allegations provided in the excerpt are mostly attributed to Payton’s former agent with whom he refused to associate at the end of his life, his former personal assistant, who was convicted of stealing money from him, and anonymous sources. Not exactly reliable sources, IMHO.

      3) The marketing of the book has all been handled in a very sleazy manner, first with SI focusing only on the most sensational aspects for their excerpt, followed by Pearlman writing an opinion piece for the Chicago Tribune where he chose to release additional scandalous allegations that were not included in the original excerpt. Odd choice by Pearlman to do so when he claims to love Payton and to be motivated by an attempt to portray the full, balanced picture. The balance is so far non-existent.

      4) Pearlman has a history of getting the facts wrong in his books (see NY Times article about Brian Cashman’s portrayal in the Roger Clemens book).

      Not saying the book is completely dishonest, just suggesting that your assumption that the book is completely honest is likely wrong.

  13. Strange that in the same week as we witness these mindless attacks on Jeff, we are reminded of the unfair and destructive treatment of Steve Bartman. Chicago sports fans have nothing to talk about when it comes to fairness and integrity.

    1. If you think the concerns expressed here are mindless, you’ve obviously either not read them in any detail, have not attempted to comprehend the points you disagree with or are Jeff’s wife/father/mother/BFF. Leaving aside the few ubiquitous trolls, most of the posts here have been well-reasoned, on both sides. Hardly mindless.

  14. The biggest problem with this biography is that the man himself does not get to verify or explain what people are assuming are the truths about his life. Lets face it, as time goes on memories take a life of their own… you can have a group of people see the same event and they will all remember it a different way. Who is to say what was truly happening in his life. Memories are faulty, as many studies have shown. What you wrote about this man appears to be a tabloid article that is going for the “bucks”. How can you get a complete look at someone’s life without speaking to his family, the coach or people closest to him? But even then, without getting the insight of the man, himself, nobody can truly know what was going through his mind.

    How would you like a casual acquaintance decide to write a biography on your life, only speaking with a handful of people who are relying on memories of what they “think” your motivation was, or their own interpretation of events in your life? Biographies can be an insightful look into a person’s life, but does it have to be at the price of tarnishing a man’s reputation, when there are so few heroes left in this tabloid hungry world? You hurt so many people with this book… his family, his friends, and old and young fans alike. Even if any of these “demons” he was supposedly fighting are true, is it anyone’s business? How about sharing your demons with the world, without the chance to explain yourself or what was going on in your life or mind at the time. Try putting yourself in his kid’s shoes. How would you feel if someone you cared about had a book like this written about them, without a chance to explain themselves or refute what people are saying? Try taking that microscope you are using to examine and judge someone’s life and look at your own motivation for this piece of work. You might not like what you see.

  15. One of Walters best friends was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy with me and we were stationed in Pearl Harbor back in the 90’s. Walter would come to Hawaii and stay with his friend and he always had a girl with him that wasn’t his wife. I didn’t like it and probably judged him at the time but people make mistakes. I’m sure at some point, he regretted his actions. What would be interesting would be the story of Mrs. Payton and how she handled the pain during her marriage. She certainly knew who Walter was and what he was doing yet stayed married. It would also be interesting to hear the girlfriends view of how she felt sitting there at the HOF induction while Walter thanked his family. Those stories would be more interesting than another superstar fooling around on his wife… Last time I hear.. that was pretty common

    1. And none of the general public’s business, as long as the superstar is not promoting himself as a shining moral example for others to follow.

      Knowing about Ted Haggerty’s drug abuse and sexual pecadillos furthers the public good. Knowing about Payton’s does not.

  16. I just wanted to let you know now instead of blindsiding you like you did walter, I am taking any donations to investigate your background and find something , anything that will let YOUR fans, friends, and family know that this truely is not a perfect world. There are things in everyones lives that they want to be kept private but make no mistake, everyone has secrets. Some can make someones day because they didn’t get enough attention from mommy and daddy. But some secrets can really put a persons life in a light as a true “car wreck”. Have a nice day and oh yeah…,. Jesus loves you even though everyone else hates you

  17. I myself having grown up in a family of football players and fans in the late 70’s and 80’s know of the man referred to as “Sweetness”. Having watched and cheered this remarkable athlete and human being on during my childhood even though my household was a strong Pittsburg Steeler home. I bought the book because of my interst in the man that I use to watch not only run passes defenders, but also run over defenders.

    Honestly people, I hated this book after coming to the conclusion that it is nothing more than a tattle tell (tale) money maker tabloid shock and stock the shelves weak and cowardly attempt at sports journalism!

    I pitty the author for his worthless de-humanizing waste of print spent dragging a hall of fame sports legend back through the dirt and mud years after his body and soul were laid to rest for eternity. May God Bless Mr. Payton’s soul…

    Here is a premis for a book the author should write next.
    it would be right up his alley and he could call it: The Truth About (Author) He can write about all the skeletons in his closet and re-live his lowest moments of life for all to judge. He tell us of his bad decisions and errors in judgement. We could read of all his failures and losses. Wouldn’t that help sell his story as well? He could be just as truthful as he wanted and even give us his insight on why, something Walter has no way of doing. Let me know when it goes on sale, I would love to have mine personally signed in person. Maybe even a big book signing event. You could charge admission Jeff. Cha ching, just keep the money machine running my friend. Why not?

    This book was a big dissapointment, can I get a refund? Maybe sell the one I have? For sale: Used book ”
    sweetness “The enigmatic life of Walter Payton” $0.01 (It’s not worth the 2 Cents that were given…

    Kevin Wayne Brazil

    1. The book isn’t going to be released until Tuesday, October 4th. Would love to know how you bought a copy in advance?

      Please, people. I’m as disgusted by what I’ve learned about and read of this book as anyone, but let’s keep things real.

  18. Jeff Pearlman wants everyone to think he came upon his subject matter for Walter Payton, not because he knew there was dirt there which were going to bring publicity and help him sell books, but because he was intrigued by the mysterious Payton. And then the book turned into an account of embarrassing personal and secret details of Payton’s life organically, not because he sought out those types of personal details.

    If you believe that, then you are either friends or family of Pearlman’s or you are naive. Look at the sublect matter for his previous books: 1. the late ’90’s Dallas Cowboys 2. the 1986 New York Mest 3. Barry Bonds 4. Roger Clemens. Each subject is one he knew very well going into research about, was one that he had very strong preconcieved notions about and ones he knew there was boundless supplies of gossipy type of details about. Now with the Payton book he had turned over a new leaf, was no longer the Kitty Kelley of sports books but was now approaching a subject matter because he was intrigued, not titilated by what he could find out? He is four for four with gossip books. If it looks like a duck and quacks like one, it’s another biography which will embarrass it’s subject matter by Jeff-Kitty-Pearlman.

    I had never heard of Pearlman unti two days ago. I did a five minute googls search and learned very quickly what type of writer Pearlman is and how he views the world. A sampling of Pearlman’s blog posts:

    1. The sports fans I hate
    2. Why I hate the GOP
    3. Why I hate Christmas (by his mother. Now we know how he achieved his sunny personality)
    4. Clemens sucks
    5. The Voice…sucks very,very,very badly
    6. Miniature golf sucks
    7. Dell sucks
    8. Barry Bonds is evil incarnate
    And the biggest laugh: 9. Fame sucks (Who needs it? I certainly don’t). The fact that Kitty Pearlman doesn’t see the irony of decrying fame while writing these types of bios and blogging about his thoughts on practically any subject that crosses through his brain -including his account of blood in his stool means that Pearlman is incapable of self examination but just loves to examine others.

    Kitty Pearlman also has a reputation for not fact checking. He writes a made up quote by Yankees President, Brian Cashman, which he later had to retract. The issue isn’t that Kitty Pearlman made a mistake, but that he never bothered to ask Cashman if he had said it.

    Mr. Pearlman: Please stop pretending that you’re Jack Anderson or Mike Royko or Edward R. Murrow. Admit who you are. You are Kitty Pearlman. Wear and wear it proud because that is who you are however much you may howl in protest.

  19. Did you ever spend an hour, a day or more with the man you are trying to biograph? Well I did!! Did you ever try to run “the hill” with him? Well I did! Did you talk to his team mate’s about how he treated them? I sisncerely dought it!
    Did you ask Ove Olsson about his love for speed? I really don’t think so! Did you know that his friends called him Walt even when “Sweetness” was painted on his racing helmet? I dought that too!
    Walter was a loving and caring man that I am proud to say was a friend of mine. He would give his time for just about any cause that he could attend.
    He loved his wife and family.
    God was always in his life.
    Then came his other true loves, football and going fast whether it be motorcycles or formula race cars; He appreciated every person involved.
    To say bad things about a man of his caliber, I hope will be a disgrace to you!!

  20. Walter Payton, the man, was never a hero. Payton the football player was. You’re bringing a man’s personal life to the fore when the only reason anyone cared about him was his professional accomplishments. Yes everyone has flaws. Payton’s flaws shouldn’t be waved in front of the world so you can profit from them in the name of telling the whole story when all you’re doing is covering a part of his life that nobody cares about.

    1. Also if you are serious about people reading the book first before judging you wouldn’t have released the most salacious parts of the book as excerpts on SI and will release the WHOLE book for free online or at least other chapters of his life. Otherwise, your detractors are right you’re just trying to make a dime off of someone else’s hard work. But hey, anyway to make a dime right? I have a feeling you’d be right at home with Fox News.

  21. I will not be purchasing your book, but I will be very interested to find out how many names you list of Walters’ female companions. Being the accredited journalist you claim to be I am sure you would not leave out such details. After all, you said you wrote this to book to give the full picture right? You must have spoken with these women in your 600+ personal interviews, right? If for some reason you chose not to list complete names of these opportunistic women we might assume this is fiction.

    I am not so naive about professional athletes and their lack of fidelity but I do believe that there are a lot of women who prostitute themselves for the celerity or a meal-ticket regardless of who they hurt. Now I would PAY to see those names!

    Walter’s family-even his unknown son-deserve more respect than you have afforded them. You are a coward Mr. Pearlman.

  22. Wow..Talk about a weird day. I thought this was buried in the past. I heard this on the radio during a cab ride and felt a rush of old memories, that arent so comfotable!! I am not shocked at anything other than the time it took for this to get into a book, or otherwise made public. Although, I think most in Chicago already knew. I am sad for the kids and family having this reopen old wounds.
    I had a regular on-going affair with Walt from spring ’89 through end of 1990. He picked me out at 34’s when I was 19.
    We saw each other regularly and he was not as discreet as one would expect. Despite it all, it was clear to me that he cared a lot about his family, especially the kids. And even though he was flawed in being unfaithful, he was a really a genuinely nice guy and cared about the image he portrayed to children as a role model.
    I never saw him use drugs, or even appear high, but at times he did seem sad and lonely.
    My most shocking memory, in hindsight, is our joint carelessness.
    Walt was an awesome man, with many talents and definitely human flaws. I hope your book shows the full picture without focusing on the negative, we are all just human afterall.
    And, I agree with another poster, that it would be great if some proceeds could be donated to a charitable cause.

    I did not interview for this book, or in any way contribute, FYI. I am sure I am only one of many of his girls.

  23. Dear Mr. Pearlman,

    What’s your point? Some things are better left unsaid. Do you tell your kids Santa doesn’t exist or the tooth fairy is not real! When your writing has an adverse affect whether your intent was there or not does it make it worth writing? Discretion would be the better part of valor. You obviously have very little valor or values to smear a man after he has already met his Maker. I hope your book flops! Many books have already been written about athletes and their plights! Find something better to dedicate your time you are not writer.. you are a yellow journalist!

  24. Walter Payton is a celebrity and we all know that they are fair game for writers. I just have to say that I had the opportunity to meet Walter at a 5K fun run and he was as great a person as I imagined him to be. He did not hold himself higher than anyone else, and he came up to me. I was just standing on the side and he approached me and struck up a conversation. We know that everyone has skeletons in their closet, but that is why they are in there; so others don’t see them. The people he allowed in his life that betrayed him are the ones that should be blamed. He trusted these people with the most vulnerable pieces of his life and they ignored their responsibility of confidentiality. The author is just doing his job (in a sleazy, slimy way)! I won’t read the book and knowing that Walter wasn’t perfect doesn’t change my high opinion of him. He did more good for people then his minor indiscretions. Hopefully people will choose to remember him as a hero! I know I always will.

  25. Walter Payton's GREATNESS Lives on the Field!

    Mr. Pearlman, I can see that you are a somewhat tenacious journalist (judging from your previous works on Clemens and the Yankees), but I have to think the title and premise of your book — “The Enigmatic Life of Walter Paytons” — fails at its most basic levels: That there was some kind of “mystery” about Walter Payton and we Bears fans (and other NFL fans) didn’t understand something about his personality, family background and other motivations?

    Walter Payton never falsely advertised himself as a “paragon of virtue,” but he also was NOT a controversial, polarizing tabloid figure ala O.J. Simpson, Rae Carruth or any of the steroid-taking liars (Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire) or a serial LYING gambler on baseball games (including on his own team) like Pete Rose. Now, if you want to write a book that is WITHIN A FEW YEARS of these scumbags doing something like that, I don’t have a problem with it, even if it might be something I already know and don’t care to read about in a pulp novel.

    Mr. Pearlman, judging from the overwhelmingly sincere and heart-wrenching comments here about what Walter Payton meant to us Chicago Bears and NFL fans out there, it really makes the title of your book, “The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton” all the more inane and counterintuitive in its most basic premise. We ALL knew what Walter stood for on- and off-the-field — a man with genuine heart (the good and the bad, even if we didn’t care to pry into his personal life like you!) and the 100-percent effort he gave EVERY SECOND he took to the football field.

    One of my fondest memories, in fact, was a video I once saw over 25 to 30 years ago of a pre-adolescent, teenage Walter Payton trying out for “Soul Train” and being one of the most lovable, wonderfully goofy and entertaining guys on this planet — even as he was dancing to a dated Jackson Five-type musical diddy (it may have been that or Earth Wind & Fire, my memory fails me). That is one of those signature moments about Walter Payton — one of those endearing, “sweetest” souls you could meet during our lifetimes.

    And that is why I feel the entire premise of Walter being an “enigma” is so utterly failing and mistaken in its core premise — I truly feel sorry for you that as a journalist looking to dredge up a true “man’s” life 12 years after his passing (and with your claimed 648 interview subjects going on ad infinitum about what made Walter tick), you entirely miss the point of made Walter’s personality so uniquely imprinted in our collective memories of “Sweetness'” true personality.

    If you don’t understand it or just wrote the “enigma” part of this to sell books, then you are truly blind and soulless for not according Payton the respect and love he’s earned over an entire LIFETIME of positive contributions. I hope your conscience can sleep at night for writing what is such a Johhnny-come-lately, trivialized and thoroughly dissected chronicle of this man’s alleged personal failings, which he has common with 98% of the people on this planet (maybe the other 2% being the mass murderers, steroid/HGH cheaters, etc.). You shed nothing new or remotely interesting in this “tell-all” portrait, at least in my humble opinion. But I know there will still be readers or, dare I say, voyeurs who will want to buy your book to see if Walter Payton had as many warts as the rest of us commoners out there — it’s the sad reality of triviality and banality of celebrity-style journalism these days. Rest In Peace, Sweetness!

    1. Walter Payton's GREATNESS Lives on the Field!

      Just to serve as one of those reminders of the FEROCITY, TENACITY and HEART of “Sweetness,” take a look at this true “shock-and-awe” YouTube video highlight reel of Walter Payton putting the smackdown on his gridiron foes at

      Believe me, there is NOTHING at all “enigmatic” about Walter Payton’s life (as the lame title of your book limply implies) — he left nothing on the field and never claimed to be a saint (more like a warrior on the gridiron!)….Sweetness bared everything in terms of his courage in life and death! Sweetness’ spirit and inspiration lives in all of us Bears fans….and those who love football and admire what Sweetness eternally exemplified about what is the best about the NFL. Sweetness, you still live in my memories and soul!!

  26. Reading and hearing reactions to this is disappointing to say the least. I thought people were smart enough to know what a biography is. It really does just come down to that, it’s that simple. Know what a biography is.

    This book may not be for everyone, it’s not for me simply because even though I’m a sports fan (and yes from Chicago so a Bears fan as well) I don’t really enjoy reading sports books. I get enough of it from watching it. But I do enjoy biographies. So hearing all this outrage, especially here in Chicago over this, it’s just been overwhelming. I’ve never heard a biography so vehemently questioned like this before.

    These people who get so emotionally caught up in this, they have to understand, a GOOD, worthwhile (emphasis on “good” and “worthwhile) biography doesn’t actively try to make you feel good, if it happens, it’s because the facts of that person’s life allows for it in telling the story. A good biography doesn’t try to focus on more positive aspects than negative aspects and vice versa, it focuses on what’s there in the person’s life. And with Walter it’s more good than “bad”.

    I don’t see struggling with a beaten up, cancer ridden body and taking drugs to combat it as “bad”. Like it takes away anything he did. But newspaper headlines describing the book will go with the negativity behind words “drug addict”. That’s where people’s anger should be directed, the media’s spinning of information. But that’s getting a little off topic.

    Mike Ditka’s reaction to this is baffling to me. I found out he was actually interviewed for this book and my confusion doubled. Mike Ditka, say what you want about him, but he’s dedicated substantial effort to improving and trying to help other old, retired, battered NFL players who need medical assistance to get it from the NFL for their services to making that league what it is today. He’s done a lot of good work in that.

    So to see him come out and say he would spit on Jeff Pearlman and that his book is without purpose other than greed is baffling. If anything, this book is of assistance to Ditka’s fight. It tells yet another story of a man who gave everything he had to the game of football and left it broken, battered, depressed, much like many of the players that Ditka stands up for. If anything, this book only shines a bigger light on the problems that the NFL has ignored for decades. I don’t understand how Ditka can’t see that.

    Well, that went longer than I expected, hopefully people will start to understand, this isn’t a hatchet job, it’s not a cheap shot at someone who isn’t around to defend themselves (like we’re in court or something), it’s a biography. And if it helps just one person to further understand the kind of battles players like the great Walter Payton go through even after they leave the football field, then it’s done it’s job.

    1. I think you misunderstand why most people are upset, and don’t insult us by suggesting that we don’t know what a biography is. We all know that a well-written biography will document the positive and the negative of a person’s life. We all (most of us anyway) know that Walter was human, and therefore not perfect, and therefore had has struggles. We knew that before this all started. Many of us have read some of the other dozen or so biographies (and autobiography) that are out there. Some of us witnessed Payton’s “dates” or heard the stories back in the day. It’s also pretty common knowledge that professional athletes struggle with their transition to private life.

      The reason we are outraged over this one is based on the odd timing of it (why another one? many bios have already been written); the negative reputation of the author and the way he’s played fast and loose with the facts in his previous books; and I think most importantly, the way the book has been marketed, with the emphasis solely on the more scandalous aspects. But Pearlman is every bit as responsible for, and a willing participant in that as the “media” (see the opinion piece he wrote for Friday’s Chicago Tribune, where he chose to reveal additional allegations that were not already disclosed in the SI excerpt.) Journalistic integrity does not require sensationalization of the facts, in fact I believe it is quite the opposite.

      I do believe this biography could have been written and marketed in a different, more respectful way (while including 99% of the same content, meaning the “bad” too, but only that which could be actually proven and was relevant), and people would not be nearly as upset.

      To put it another way, if Pearlman’s primary motivation was honestly to write the most comprehensive, truly definitive, biography he could, he would have gained cooperation from the family (who surely are among the people who knew Payton best). He would have written the book in an academic, research-oriented way, double-checking everything he was told, and only relying on the word of people who were willing to be quoted, rather than citing anonymous sources. He would have considered all possible motivations for Payton’s post-football behavior, including the possibility of brain damage from repeated football-induced head trauma (Pearlman told David Haugh from the Tribune that he deliberately left any mention of that out of the book.) And once the book was written, he would have put it out in the world for people to read, marketing it as a new, heavily researched bio of Payton, extolling the new sources or new insights or whatever, but with not one word about the potentially scandalous details. People who were truly interested in Payton the man would purchase the book and learn the good and the ugly. People who could care less would never know.

      But that’s not what he did, did he? No, it is obvious that Pearlman did not have altruistic motivations to help the world better understand Walter Payton. No, he appears to have been motivated by cold hard cash, and increasing his own fame. And the best way to do that was by leading with scandal.

      The other aspect of this that I believe is inflaming a lot of passion here is that there is a very fine line between documenting history and violating a person’s right to privacy. As you say, a “good” biography “focuses on what’s there in the person’s life.” But how much of that life is fair game for the biography, and how much is invasion of privacy? Some people believe that Payton ceased to be a public figure upon his retirement from football, others would say that once a public figure, always a public figure. Personally, I think that fair game for the biography is his life up to the point at which Payton ceased to be a public figure, plus the addition of other publicly known information from his life after that. Struggles growing up that he had to overcome to succeed as he did would be completely relevant, instructional and inspirational to the reader of a biography. His private struggles post-football that he wanted kept private should remain private, even if they would also be instructional. I believe Pearlman crossed the line (as it would appear the majority of the posters in this forum do), but we can agree to disagree.

      But IMHO, the crossing of that line, combined with the use of the scandalous details as the focus for the marketing of the book, means that this is not just a biography, it is also a hatchet job.

      You bring up an interesting point about publicizing the plight of retired football players, but you don’t acknowledge that every player (or player’s family) that has come forward to share their experiences has VOLUNTEERED to do so. There are doubtless other suffering retired players that we are not aware of. Payton and his family had chosen not to publicize his experience, and that choice was taken away from them. Again, hatchet job.

      On a side note, the diagnosis of Payton as being depressed is troubling. I believe the SI excerpt stated that he refused to be evaluated by a medical professional. So it is only speculation by non-medical experts who knew him that he was actually suffering from clinical depression. If he had been diagnosed by a medical provider, that person is barred by federal law (HIPAA) from disclosing that information. I do not bring this discrepancy up to in any way suggest that there is anything shameful associated with suffering from depression. Rather, I bring it up as an example of where the facts don’t quite add up, which brings Pearlman’s integrity into question yet again.

      1. Well then I guess we better get to banning a TON of books if we’re to follow your “rules and regulations” of when and how to write a biography. Because there are a TON of them out there that don’t meet that “standard”. I have never seen a biography questioned so much (or really at all) on that basis. It’s kinda mind boggling.

        You can’t control the media using the terms “drug addict” and “cheater” when they say that’s what the book labels Payton, when the fact is that neither of those phrases appear at all in the book. As for CTE, the reason why it wasn’t included was because it would have been entirely speculative in nature to Payton. Could he have had it? A good chance, but we didn’t have the kind of knowledge of it back then to diagnose it as we do today. So I can understand why he wouldn’t put anything that would be more or less completely of his own opinion in the biography.

        Everyone keeps asking why now, why now. Why write it now? The answer is another question: Why wasn’t it written earlier? By people who actually knew Walter? The Bears beat reporters of that time,other local writers, both groups of whom were interviewed for this book. Why didn’t they write it? They would’ve had first hand experience.

        The answer is because of this stupid backlash. Pearlman is an outsider, he has nothing real to fear from this kind of anger, mainly coming from Chicago, but those writers and beat reporters I mentioned? They had everything to lose writing something definitive like this about Payton. Their careers would be in jeopardy.

        I mean, look at what’s happened. People are ridiculously up in arms over a small, media sensationalized excerpt from a 400+ page book and are judging it and the author on those grounds. It’s embarrassing behavior. I thought we were smarter than that.

  27. Hi Jeff,

    I look forward to reading your book and would seriously like to take you up on your lunch offer. I’m 50, live in Scarsdale, NY and am a marketing executive at Thomson Reuters.

    Why would I like to have lunch with you? Emotionally, I’d like to be in close enough physical proximity to kick your ass, but I’m willing to wait until we finish eating, and discussing your book, to determine if that is necessary.

    I grew up in Chicago, a huge sports fan and an all encompassing Bear fan. I cried when the Bears won the Super Bowl. I still love the Bears but now enjoy sports in their proper context. That said, the one athlete that still remains fixed in my heart is Walter Payton. I watched virtually every game that Walter ever played. I don’t really regard athletes in the hero realm, but Walter was my hero.

    As I said, I look forward to reading your book. Objectively. But I go into it wondering what journalistic or cultural value it’s contributing. This is what I’d like to talk to you about. Why did you decide to write a biography of Walter? I find it hard to believe that you didn’t embark on this project without knowing that you’d have enough titillating material to juice up attention and sales. Without this aspect, would be on the Cover of SI? Without this “human” side of Walter’s life, would it really be a commercially viable biography outside of Chicago and the wider sphere of Bear Nation? The simple answer is no. Which is why I question the authenticity of your defense and your overall motives.

    I do hope to hear back from you and even more to actually meeting you in the future.

  28. Hey Jeff, I am also the guy that had the poster of Walter on the wall of his boyhood bedroom! I will never forget every Sunday watching the bears with my father. I came of age with Walter Payton. I was 12 his rookie season. I endured the lame years along with Walter albeit his beatings were physical mine were mental.
    Listened to your interview on the Score radio 670 Chicago and was very impressed with your character. I seemed to agree with every point you made. What kind of biographer would you be if you were to pick and choose the items you put in the book. I firmly believe you have to put everything in the book that has been substantiated or authenicated. I want my favorite player in a total package. This book won’t make me think less of Walter but I will love him more. To realize that we are all more the same than different is a good thing! Your thoroughness and integrity are two things I do give you props. A job well done Jeff! If you ever need an investigator for another project by all means give me a call!
    Thanks for writing this,
    Bart Tack

  29. Sportswriting Refugee

    Some of the funniest posts on this thread are the ones that wonder how Jeff would feel if people wrote about his personal life and demons. Us regular readers of Jeff’s blog knows that he REGULARLY writes about his personal life, his personal failings, his losses as well as his victories. He’s about as candid a journalist as I’ve ever read! So my guess is that his answer would be: “Have at it.”

  30. Let’s say I write the “definitive” biography of Adolf Hitler. I have 5 pages in the book about how Hilter loved dogs, and about how good a trait that is to have. Most of the rest of the 460 pages are about his killing 6 million Jews. Newsweek excerpts the 5 pages about his loving dogs, ignoring the rest of the book.

    I a matter of hours, everyone who can read and has heard of World War II hates me, and tells asks why in the world I would write such dreck. Then I remember that I can just say “Read the whole book! Hitler was a bad guy! I can’t believe you have all jumped to such conculsions! I think Hilter is an even worse guy than when I started this book 3 years ago!”.

    This is how you’re coming off, Jeff. Too bad you won’t come to Chicago for a book signing, so you can see that there would be 100 people protesting, and 1 Packer fan buying the book. Hope it bombs.

  31. Congratulations on your desecration of the memory of a legend. I cried when Walter Payton died. The man has inspired me so much. You have always been a hack. Now, you’re also a scuzzy hack. Enjoy the money you’ll make by tarnishing the legend of another! You’re nothing more than a vampire and money whore.

  32. The idea that Jeff is getting rich off this book is comical. Considering the years and hours he put into this thing, he probably got paid about 1/2 of what most of you make at your jobs.

    Grow up. You’re making Chicago look like a bunch of pussies.

  33. I keep reading interviews with Jeff where he is shocked that he is being compared to Kitty Kelley (the worst thing a writer who aims to be a respectable biographer can be called). Like Coach Ditka I want to spit on Jeff.

    Walter Payton is the greatest football player of all time. Not because he had the greatest physical gifts. He didn’t. His speed was only average. He wasn’t that big. What Walter had that no one else who has ever played is the ability to play with 100% effort at all times. He never ran out of bounds. He saved his quarterback hundreds of times with take downs of linebackers and ends who got through the line. His fullbacks with limited ablities always had good yardage averages because of Walter’s lead blocks. He was the best pass receiving running back in the game as he held the record for receptions when he retired. He never dropped a pass. And i mean he never dropped a pass. He was the best passing half back of his generation. When his quarterback threw an interception, more often than not, Walter made the tackle. Walter Payton was what Jeff Pearlman can never be, beautfiful.

    Jeff Pearlman is obviously unaware of who he tangled with. He has done nothing in his writing career but be a tattle tale writer who uses sources who have a grudge. Payton’s agent, Bud Holmes was fired, so Bud gave Jeff dirt. Jeff’s other main source is his assistant, Ginny who was convicted of stealing from Walter and his family.

    I grew up in Chicago in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I lived in a majority Jewish neighborhood, so no one can tell me I don’t know what I am talking about here. It was ten years since Sandy Koufax had been retired, but every Jewish kid I knew revered Koufax and every Jewish family had a Koufax biography is their house. The reason I bring this up is I want Jeff to be honest and answer a question.

    If Jeff had learned that Sandy had cheated on his wife would he have written a biography detailing this and used his mistresses as primary sources as he did with Walter? If he found out that Sandy had taken lots of tylenol and painkillers would have had written that? If Sandy’s disgruntled agent had told Jeff that Sandy told him that he talked of suicide would Jeff had writen that? If Sandy’s girlfriend had told Jeff that Sandy’s wife was a distant mother would Jeff had written that?

    The answer is no, Jeff would not have written that. I have read Jeff’s blogs where he obsesses about Jewish athletes and their greatness. There is zero chance he would write gossip about a Jewish athlete the way he writes repeatedly about African-American and non Jewish white athletes.

    Jeff Pearlman is a bigot. He writes about how he and his mother hate Christmas. He writes about how he wants Tim Tebow to fail because he is an evangelical Chiristian. Jeff Pearlman hates it when athletes show their Chritianity.

    Jeff, if you hate living in a non Jewish majority society so much, why don’t you do us all a favor and move to Israel where you belong, you bigot?


  34. My problem with this is that Pearlman is a coward. To write this book after his death and bring up personal problems but wanting to use the words of I want to tell the good and bad about this mans life. Then to find out that the 700 people that he interviewed were not the closest of people to this man that was so private. The interview with the son and daughter did not go over well and they shut down the interview because of the questions that he was asking. It is a coward that throws stones from behind a pin and say that he was just doing what he thought was best. He just has to remember this.. these words are from a Great President named Theodore Roosevelt. He depicts people like little Jeffy boy that wrote this book in hopes of making money on a dead man that had done wonderful things for a city.

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    Jeff reminds me of the guy that would tell me that it is impossible for a man to hide and that if he was in Afghanistan, he would have been able to find Bin Laden or any other active terrorist, but he talks this crap from his couch without ever having been out there walking among the blood and never knowing if this was his last mission that he would every attempt. Jeff you are a coward and no matter how you try to clean it up, the stain will stay with you…



    1. Uh … I’ll respond to the one point that is nonsense: The interviews with both children went beyond two hours, and weren’t shut down at all. Not sure where you’re getting your information from, but it’s incorrect. Now, back to morning cartoons …

  35. jeff-kitty,

    please respond to other nonsense:

    1. did you pay any sources for this book?
    2. did you know that you primary sources (bud adams-his fired agent, ginny-his fired assitant, and his mistresses) for this book had been left out of his will?
    3. did you know that his assistant (your obvious primary source) had been fired for stealing from him?

    you’re not the only one who can investigate, jeff-kitty. if you lie in your answers to these questions, you can be investigated too.

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