Author Jeff Pearlman, whose new biography says Walter Payton abused drugs and cheated on his wife, says he greatly admires Payton and is taken aback by the harsh reaction his book has received among Payton’s friends and fans.
“I love Walter Payton,” Pearlman said on The Dan Patrick Show, via John Mullin of CSNChicago.com. “I love him a million times more now, understanding him as much as I feel like I do, than when I was just some guy, a fan reading love notes to him.”
The reaction in Chicago has been nasty, with Payton’s old coach Mike Ditka leading the charge by saying he’d like to spit on Pearlman. Although Pearlman is no stranger to controversy (he wrote the much-discussed 1999 Sports Illustrated profile of John Rocker), he says he wasn’t quite prepared for the response to his Payton biography, which was excerpted in Sports Illustrated this week.
“It’s been pretty fierce,” Pearlman said. “I’ve never had a backlash like this in my life. It hasn’t been the most fun day in my life.”
But Pearlman insists, despite the protests of many who knew Payton, that he sought to paint a fair and accurate portrait of a man he respects. Pearlman says he talked to Payton’s friends and family and believes that a full reading of the book tells the story of a good man who led a complicated life.
“I guarantee you, when people read the full book, all 460 pages and not just the five in Sports Illustrated, they’ll consider it a very detailed and all-encompassing and very fair look at his life,” Pearlman said.
If nothing else, Pearlman is right that his book should be judged by those who actually read it, and not those like Ditka who would cast aspersions on Pearlman before reading what he wrote.