Sweetness

Sweetness

The enigmatic life of Walter Payton

This is the hardest book of my career.
This is the most rewarding book of my career.
This is the most painful book of my career.
This is the most joyful book of my career.
I entered this project with a love of Walter Payton. He was one of my childhood heroes; a man whose poster hung on my wall. Back in the 1980s, playing football in Brian Cennamo’s backyard, I was either Billy Sims, Ricky Bell, Freeman McNeil or Walter Payton.
Mostly, it was Payton.
Hence, when Gotham signed me to write this book, I was giddy. It was the opportunity to delve into one of the most admirable professional athletes of our times. Hell, in one of my first interviews for the book, I asked Eddie Payton whether his brother lived up to his angelic reputation. “Well,” he said, “nobody’s perfect.”
Walter wasn’t. He fathered a child out of wedlock, and refused to have a relationship with the boy. He was a poor businessman and a hot-and-cold father and a womanizer of the first degree. Learning these things wasn’t—as some think—joyful. Just the opposite—it was depressing.
But then, over time, you realize how complicated people can be. The same man with so many flaws was loving and giving and generous and helpful. He suffered through stretches of horrible depression, yet didn’t want others to feel his pain. Even when he initially became sick, he made certain nobody knew.
The public had an impression, and Walter Payton desperately wanted it to endure.
In many ways, it still does.