Walter Payton’s Legacy

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.

4 Responses to “Walter Payton’s Legacy”

  1. My opinion is, why release this now? The man has been dead for over ten years. Would these so called people that were interviewed would come out if he was still alive? Also, I already knew he was separated from his wife in the early 90s. That isn’t new news. I realize some people care about this stuff, but I don’t. To me, a professional athlete that plays for my favorite team owes me three things. 1. Show up to practice/game, etc on time. 2. Give a full effort at all times. 3. Don’t do anything illegal. That’s it. What they do on their own time is their business.

  2. As for your other comment Roy, many of the Bears of the 80s have flat out admitted they couldn’t do most of the things they did off the field in today’s world.

  3. Ghandi wasn’t perfect either: he cheated on his wife. But his legacy will never be tarnished.

    I can’t wait for the game Sunday and I hope Soldier Field erupts with a “Walter” chant so loud that it shakes the windows of every skyscraper in the city.

  4. From what I understand the author did a fairly good job of accentuating all of the positives as well. With that said, this isn’t a book I’ll be reading simply out of principle. These sports networks and writers are just plain out of control in my view. ESPN and The NFL Network have basically become MTV clones. There’s more emphasis on reality shows and slander than there is on actual sports reporting. They’re all looking for a sensational story, which is exactly what ruined cable news for me. Maybe I’m just old school, but putting peoples business out on Front Street like that is about the douchy-est move someone could make. I understand they’re public figures and there’s a certain light on them but the extent that it’s gone to is too far. They’ve tried to vilify Steve Bartman for 90+ years of the Cubs failure. Reporters showed up at his job and the Trib printed his home address. Where’s the integrity with these people? In Payton’s case I’d wager that 90% of the negative stuff that’s in that book has been known for years. The guy obviously had his issues in his later years and into retirement but by all accounts he made peace with all of it before he passed. It should have been left at that. This doesn’t change my opinion about him one damn bit. The good far outweighed the bad and that’s that. RIP Sweetness.

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