If I had never watched film clips or viewed pictures of the man, it would have been tough to convince me that Payton wasn’t some mythological figure or some character out of the Bible. That’s what athletes were to me when I was growing up. These men didn’t seem like it they were real humans. They seemed more like superheroes.
Well, Payton, like all of us, is human. Elite level athletes are real. The point guard, third baseman and goalie are fallible. These men and women fight with demons and have moments of weakness just like the father of three or the single mom living paycheck to paycheck.
It came as no surprise to me to learn that Walter Payton was a regular guy as revealed in the book Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton written by Jim Pearlman. The book sheds a light on a great athlete who also engaged in extramarital affairs, was addicted to pain medications and had thoughts of taking his life at one point. While those tales are definitely intriguing, the ugly side of Payton’s existence will not change the way I feel about him as a football player. And the opinion of Payton won’t change for many others either after reading the book or the Sports Illustrated piece.
I believe we all want to remember our childhood sports idols as pristine . We want to remember all the spectacular in-game moments they provided. The walk-off homers, game-winning touchdowns or last-second buzzer beaters.