These days with work and family commitments, I’m lucky to have the time to fire off just a couple posts a week on the Chicago Bears. I’m usually way behind the news cycle as I am today, a day after the excerpt from the controversial new book on Walter Payton started garnering attention.
Of course a few years back I wrote my own glowing page on BearsHistory.com detailing the life of one of my childhood favorites. I hesitate to say “heroes”, because honestly I have never looked at athletes as heroes. They’re not heroes.
I’d say my story is how those of us who grew up as Bears fans in the 70′s and 80′s reflects how we thought of Payton. The excerpt of the excerpt of the new book I will use here is at the very top of the article:
While traveling to Orlando for a vacation in 1996, Payton, sitting in first class, was told that a 10-year-old boy named Billy Kohler, who needed liver and kidney transplants, was on the plane, heading to Disney World courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“A stewardess comes up and says, ‘There’s someone who would like to meet you in first class,’ ” says Jim Kohler, Billy’s father. “We go up front, and who’s standing there—Walter Payton.” He introduced himself and knelt down to Billy’s level. “You’ve been facing a lot of adversity,” Payton told the boy. “You will come through this. No matter what follows, you need to keep your head up, you need to keep fighting forward, and you need to believe. You’ve gone through more in your short life than most of us have in a lifetime.”
Overcome by the moment, Billy began sobbing. Payton tickled him beneath the chin. “You’re a hero,” he said. “Just know that—you’re a hero.”
Billy Kohler, now 24, is a construction worker in Orlando.
Despite the new book’s stunning revelations that Payton had numerous affairs, abused drugs and threatened suicide, I will still remember Payton has fondly as Billy Kohler undoubtedly still does. I never looked at Payton as a hero, just as a good guy and tremendous football player. And that hasn’t changed-he was human.
As far as Payton’s family and teammates slamming the author as just out to make a buck, I don’t agree with that. There is a story to tell and the author (Jeff Pearlman) researched and told it. If the allegations are true, Payton was fortunate to have been a celebrity during a time that his every move wasn’t revealed and analyzed. We live in a different world now, one we all have to accept whether we like it or not.