The book came out yesterday. Thus far, I’ve had three favorite moments:

1. Cathy Lieberman, the woman to whom the book was dedicated, called me, crying. When you write a book, there’s a certain unspoken pull to dedicate it to the wife, the kids, the folks. And I have. But, without getting into details, Cathy (my wife’s cousin) was instrumental in this project—letting me stay in her pad, treating me with such warmth and compassion. Plus, she’s a survivor. More than a survivor.

2. Came to the local Starbucks yesterday armed with a copy of the book. Handed it, signed, to Yvonne, the manager here, who has been along for the ride, offering free drinks, kind words, etc. She was euphoric.

3. Seeing Mike Freeman’s CBS Sportsline column a few days back—the first writer who had actually read the book to offer an opinion. Mike’s a friend (and fellow Blue Hen), but his opinion matters to me—deeply. Then, reading what Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel wrote … man. Just … man. Toss in a little Michael J. Lewis … overwhelming.

The other day a guy Tweeted that he’s tired of hearing me talk about how hard I worked on this. To him I say, “Quiet!” I’ve taken a beating, and it’s been pretty harsh. I know some of you probably think it’s fair, but, well, it would have been more fair had people actually read the book first.

I am 100% prepared to be judged on my work. Love it, hate it—I can deal.

Just judge the product.

PS: Seriously, I loooove this song.

25 thoughts on “Sunshine”

  1. Many congrats Jeff. I found the responses to your book really horrifying. Man…the guy was a football player, not a god. Why even write a bio if you’re just gonna cover the good stuff that most people already know?

    I hope it sells a million for ya…

  2. Jeff, Glad to know that at least three thoughtful individuals who have actually read Sweetness have found it to be a thorough and balanced telling of Walter Payton’s life. Unfortunately, there are way too many knee-jerk sports fans (like Americans in general) who are not thoughtful and who don’t read. Can’t wait to read your latest.

  3. Jeff, I enjoy reading your blogs. When I heard about your newest book, I ordered it right away. I even mentioned the book to my spinning class (for senior citizens). First I checked out their knowledge of the subject by asking,”What position did Walter Payton play?” One of my classmates who still had a little breath said, “Oh Sweetness! He played for the Chicago Bears, etc., etc.” So I suggested that they could find out more about his new bio (“by Jeff Pearlman”) on Approx. date of delivery for my copy is 10/8. Can’t wait.

  4. Jeff,

    I’m the guy from Twitter. First of all, I want you to know that I have read the excerpts of the book that have been released, including the newer release from Yahoo. Here are my main issues, and I think these are fair things to bring up.

    First of all, I get that you worked hard; however, you constantly bring it up, and it gets a little old. Anyone working on anything should work hard, so it should be a given.

    Secondly, I still think the book serves no purpose other than to drag the Payton family through the mud. Even if 95% of the book is positive, people will remember the 5% of it that is negative. The family will always have to answer the questions about it. How is that fair to them?

    Third, if I’m willing to overlook the second point I brought up, why should I spend my hard-earned money on a product that was promoted in a way to tear down a man’s legacy? Make no mistake about it, if Sports Illustrated hadn’t run the excerpt with the more salacious details, it wouldn’t have been the story that it’s become. It also wouldn’t have sold as many copies. Let’s face it – controversy sells. It was good for business, but the promotion just seemed morally wrong to me.

    I will say that your pals over at Yahoo have been doing a fairly good job defending the book. Dan Wetzel honestly raised my curiosity a bit. I actually respect his opinions more than most sports writers out there. I can’t really give you a reason why, but I do.

    I will say that I enjoyed the newer excerpt that was released. Now, can I ever get over the things I mentioned above and buy the book? I don’t know. I don’t know if I can justify that type of sleazy marketing by spending my hard-earned cash.

    I’ll close with the thoughts of a friend of mine who is also a published author. She believes that the marketing of the book made you look horrible. She also believes that you’re far from innocent in this whole ordeal. At the same time, she did remind me that the most important thing I could do is make a truly informed decision. In other words, I can be critical of the marketing angle all I want, but I don’t have as much basis to be critical of the book without reading it.

    So, there you go. If I can ever get over the parasitic marketing strategy, I may open this book some day. I doubt it will be anytime soon, though.

    1. “The book serves no purpose other than to drag the Payton family through the mud?” You understand the concept of a biography, right? Sorry your heroes aren’t perfect, Brad, but it’s Pearlman’s job to tell the full story, even if it may hurt your delicate sensibilities. Check out the work of Mother Goose—it’s probably more suited for a fragile reader like yourself.

      1. You clearly don’t understand the concept of a job. If Sports Illustrated tells him they want a story on something, that’s his job. This was a personal business venture. Sure, I know that he had to answer to his publisher, but it’s not like he was ordered to do this book.

        I really don’t see the purpose of it. Sure, Walter Payton was famous, but doesn’t his family have a right to privacy? I think everyone has a right to privacy, but people like you have this need to know everything.

        I’m just as annoyed at the people who spilled this information so willingly. They are just as guilty about not respecting Payton’s privacy.

        Can anyone tell me why we needed to know this information? For real, how did this help any of us out? Jeff Pearlman and the publisher made money – that’s it!

        If you can tell me how the readers did benefit from known these things, I’d love to know. Our society is in a sad state.

      2. Why do we need to know anything about anyone? Why do we need books about Shakespeare and Washington and Steve Jobs?

      3. Other than those things vital to history, I don’t really need to know any of it. Knowing some type of dark secret about George Washington does nothing to enhance my life. If it doesn’t impact history in any way, it doesn’t matter whether I know about it or not.

  5. “Even if 95% of the book is positive, people will remember the 5% of it that is negative.”

    If you only remember those negative parts, that’s your own fault as a reader. The negatives have to exist to make the positives meaningful.

  6. “Secondly, I still think the book serves no purpose other than to drag the Payton family through the mud.”

    Seriously? You really, honestly, can’t think of another reason to write an honest biography of Walter Payton? Did you read Cobb? It’s a great baseball book and it talks about, get ready to gasp, many of the terrible traits of Ty Cobb. He was a violent, drunken, racist. But I’m glad the writer didn’t glaze over that and only talk about his high points. THAT would be a book that wasn’t worth writing.

    If you expect a biography to only paint a pretty picture of your favorite subjects maybe you shouldn’t read biographies.

    I really, really, really don’t understand people like you. If the world doesn’t conform to your pretty little expectations it’s someones fault.

    1. You also realize that the author of Cobb has very little credibility, right? Al Stump forged a lot of things related to Cobb. While I’m sure that some of his book is accurate, who is to say what parts of the book are entirely accurate?

      And you people are calling me ignorant.

  7. Well, well, this seems like this is NOT the first song and dance for this “author.” Been reading a lot of “Flattering” things on FB about this “author” the last few days. Just trying to get a better understanding of why this “author” does the things he does:

    All of Pearlman’s books are hate filled tattle tale stories. Whether the subject deserved it or not it is obvious he hates athletes. I’m guessing Pearlman wasn’t the best athlete and hates when actual athletes act entitled (because they should be cause they are awesome) and then goes on a mission to dig up as much as dirt as possible to get back at them while adding more gold to his bag. What a typical “sportswriter,”…ya “sportswriter.”

    Here are a list of stuff he has written, many of these subjects have refused to give him interviews, cause he is a smarmy little snake. Then in response he goes to prove them right and dig up dirt and write a tell.

    The Bad Guys Won a biography of the 1986 New York Mets with the subtitle, “A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform–and Maybe the Best.”

    Love Me, Hate Me an unauthorized biography of Barry Bonds

    Boys Will Be Boys, on the 1990s Dallas Cowboys dynasty

    Roger Clemens titled, “The Rocket That Fell to Earth,”

    article (“Will Clark is a Cackling Douche”)

    Per Wiki –

    CriticismJeff Pearlman has received criticism from readers of both his articles and blogs for taking encounters with professional athletes too personally. He has often written derogatory and hostile articles (“Will Clark is a Cackling Douche”) after encounters with players who chose not to give him an interview or treated him without the respect he felt he deserved. Some of the players that Pearlman has attacked have been Will Clark, Barry Bonds and Emmitt Smith, among others

    Some more interesting items:

    1. Dee, if you’re citing a comment someone put on my facebook page as fact, you shouldn’t be criticizing reporting.

      1. Jeff, that was not a comment on your own Facebook page. There are a few FB pages that were made up from some people I guess in “your honor” including “Jeff Pearlman is a Cackling Douch.” I wanted to get insight as to who you are, what work you have done in the past due to I’ve never heard of you before this book came out, and now judging by what I’ve found out, it’s not too flattering.

        BTW, I’ll still never believe you that you had no idea that this excerpt was going to be used in Sports Illustrated. IMO, you knew exactly what you are doing. You just do not still seem to get that Walter Payton is and still very beloved here in Chicago. Oh, and that was a laugh about your comment about the Chicago media being too soft on sports players. For instance, that’s all I’ve heard on TV and the radio in the past year before Ozzie Guillen’s departure from the Sox regarding his totally off the wall weird antics including his contraversial tweets – the media was very hard on him this year. Walter Payton was very good at keeping it together in the media IMO. The media is not soft here on anyone, you are very wrong about that.

        PS, people may be laying off you now because maybe like I am, they probably won’t be giving this subject any more attention/publicity that it seems you crave. I’ve read some of the current Bears will not be buying your book and certainly I know of no one that intends on it including me. GL with your book.

  8. “Other than those things vital to history, I don’t really need to know any of it.” Ignorance must really be bliss to people such as this.

      1. Brad,

        You don’t need to know every single detail in a person’s life, but when you’re writing a biography or any story, you have to put in the bad with the good. If Pearlman didn’t do so, he would be cheating his readers. That’s who all authors serve, the readers, not the family of the subject.

        And I finally got around to reading the piece in SI this afternoon and I think that Pearlman does a pretty good job of portraying Payton. He’s popping pain pills and Tylenol because of the pain and injuries that were suffered playing football every week. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that you’re going to find many scenes where Payton is rolling a joint or snorting coke off the ass of a stripper.

        Yes, drug abuse is a bad thing, but it didn’t seem to me that Payton was abusing party drugs. The guy lived the rest of his life in a tremendous amount of physical (and emotional) pain. We’re reading about this every week from former NFL players who are just too damned hurt to do anything any more. Payton was self-medicating and perhaps Jeff gets into that more explicitly in the book, but when I read the SI piece, it seemed obvious to me.

        One more question, and this is something that I think that a lot of people are missing, Jeff Pearlman isn’t the judge of Walter Payton’s life. He’s chronicling it, him cherry picking what to put in and what to leave out is wrong. Whose to say what is good and bad? Perhaps someone who is going through the same sort of self-medication that Payton went through will read the book and get help.

        Even if one person does this, isn’t that good?

      2. Byron,

        Thanks for an actual thought-out response. Even if I don’t fully agree with everything you wrote, I can see that it was sincere.

        I guess my first issue is that the project didn’t need to be undertaken. There have been plenty of things written about Payton. The only reason for this book would be to dig up new information, and that usually means negative information. I have serious doubts on whether Pearlman would’ve completed this book if he could only uncover positive things.

        I mean, we all know that he hoped to make money off the book. That’s why one undertakes such a project. If I wrote a book, I’d want people to read it. Quite frankly, I doubt another positive book on Walter Payton would’ve sold well.

        I will agree that maybe someone may find comfort in the fact that he struggled with demons, just like any other person. For me, Walter Payton has been a huge inspiration for my life. We have several parallels, including fighting an ailment that will probably make my life much shorter than most.

        I actually read “Never Die Easy” when I thought I was going to die a couple of years ago. It gave me great comfort to read his story in his own words. I wasn’t naive enough to think the man was flawless, but sometimes those flaws are best left unsaid.

        Now, I’m pretty much left with just admiring his football talents, which were incredible. Today, Walter Payton sounds a lot less extraordinary.

      3. Brad,

        It’s good to have discussions like this. The one thing that I want to come back to is this quote from you:

        “I guess my first issue is that the project didn’t need to be undertaken.”

        I think that I know what you’re getting at; basically a let sleeping dogs lie sort of thing. In other words, Payton has been dead for ten years and if he was a pill head and a philander, who cares? It’s not relevant any more and furthermore he’s not around to deny any allegations anyway.

        I understand that, I truly do.

        But, the image of Walter Payton on the football field is in sharp contrast to the image of Walter Payton private citizen. On the Soldier’s Field turf he was hitting holes, running through men twice the size of him and he did it with a smooth grace.

        Off the field, he was twirling guns and accidentally shooting people. I mean, that’s Don Knotts bumbling that would be laughable if a man wasn’t seriously injured.

        To me, that’s interesting. And I think to younger people, removing the facade of perfectness is helpful. This might not be a completely apt example, but think of the last photograph you’ve seen of a model. As adults we are aware that picture is doctored so much that it’s not really reality. But, young people may not know that and will go to great lengths to achieve that picture perfection even though there is no way it can exist.

        What Pearlman has done is removed the Photoshopped, perfect Payton and yes, it might not be beautiful to look at, but the guy was a human being. All of us are flawed and it’s important that we all realize that.

        What Pearlman wrote in this book by no means diminishes what Payton did on the gridiron. And it sounds like the good things he did in his private life far outweigh the bad (the story of Payton visiting the sick kid on the plane was moving). And honestly, with Payton having some demons to overcome the fact that he did make time for the fans makes him a bigger hero to me.

  9. I’ve read a lot that Jeff has written through his career. He’s a talented and thoughtful journalist. However, he signed off on the excerpt. If you agree to let a national magazine run the most salacious facts on their cover, undoubtedly boosting sales, you can’t then go and complain that people are judging the book on only 5% of its material. If you didn’t want them to judge it on the 5% of the material then feel free not to sign off on that specific excerpt in a magazine with a ciculation north of a million. We all make choices in life that we have to live with. He chose to have all the scandal appear on the cover of a national magazine. Can’t say I would have done differently. However, to now complain that people aren’t taking his years of hard work seriously is trying to have it both ways.

  10. Simply put, A GREAT READ!! I read a lot of sports biographies. I get sick of reading how they take their kids to school, do and don’t like certain coaches, and grew up the son of perfect parents and attended this church and blah, blah, blah. Superstars have flaws. I know you worked very hard writing and researching for this book and it shows. I appreciate your hard work. And I am still a big Walter Payton fan.

  11. Do people even read books anymore?

    I’ve read all the books By Jeff Pearlman except the ’86 Mets book (and will be reading Sweetness starting on Sunday), and I would recommend them to anyone. They all have great reporting, but sorry if none of them don’t read like “Cinderella”
    (This is coming from a guy who grew up idolizing the Dallas Cowboys of the 90s.)

  12. That’s exactly how this sounds, doesn’t it. This Pearlman cries of the 5% and give a book a chance, but obvious he signed off on it knowing what was going to be printed in Sports Illustrated of this salacious material for this filthy publicity stunt they’ve created while in the long run dragging Walter Payton and his family through the mud. This is the filthiest publicity stunt IMO I’ve ever witnessed.

  13. As Jeff himself said, it would be insane to turn down the front cover of SI. Of course he’s trying to sell books. That’s his LIVING. Nobody’s getting rich publishing sports biographies. He’s putting food on the table. What do you do to put food on the table? Most jobs are sleazy. Including mine–shilling for Corporate Pharma. (This is why I went back to school to become a teacher :)).
    As for the excerpts–are they true? That’s all I care about, because, if they’re true, the only person dragging Payton’s name and family through the mud was Payton. It’s not that hard to keep your dick in your pants, people. Stop making excuses.

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