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Pearlman Defends Writing Payton Book

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Walter Payton. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Walter Payton. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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(WSCR) Since an excerpt of Jeff Pearlman’s new book, “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton,” was published in Sports Illustrated Wednesday, the author has come under fire for writing details many believe are no one’s business.

Friday, Pearlman defended himself in an appearance on The Mully and Hanley Show on 670 The Score.

“If you’re writing a biography — a true, definitive biography of someone’s life — and you find out (Payton) had a son and then you find out he had a son that he wasn’t involved with, it’s painful, yes. Is it enjoyable to write? It honest to God is not,” Pearlman said. “But I don’t know — if you want to be honest and definitive about someone’s life — (if you can) ignore it. And that’s sort of my stance when I write a book.”

LISTEN: Jeff Pearlman on The Mully and Hanley Show


Pearlman, a former baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, insists he had no knowledge of Payton’s transgressions before he started writing the book.

“My exposure to Walter Payton came one time,” Pearlman said. “It was when he was dying back in ’99, I flew out to his office and spent 30 minutes talking to him about his illness. I swear to you on the lives of my kids, and I have two of them, that I knew nothing about this before I started this project. Nothing.”

The response to the book has been mostly negative in Chicago. Former Bears head coach Mike Ditka said he would spit on Pearlman. Tom Thayer said Friday on 670 The Score that he would not read the book and he doesn’t respect it. For what it’s worth, Pearlman said he interviewed Ditka for the book.

The author also wanted to make it clear that the negative facts of Payton’s life are just one part of the book.

“If you read the book, the whole book, it is much more sort of like the Vince Lombardi biography, ‘When Pride Still Mattered’ or the great (Roberto) Clemente biography by David Maraniss, than it is a slash job on Walter Payton. I guarantee you,” Pearlman said. “But all people have is the excerpt. If you read the book — and people think, ‘Oh, he’s trying to make a buck,’ take it out from the library, stand in Barnes & Noble and read it, I don’t care — if you read the book, you’ll see it is a definitive biography of his entire life and this part of his life about his retirement, a very, very dark period in his life, is one part of the book.”

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