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Football Championship Subdivision

In some way, we're all like Walter Payton

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I've done a lot in life which in retrospect fail to make me proud.

Can you say the same?

Whoever isn't nodding in agreement can add lying to his list.

None of us is perfect. Not even close.

Sure, we aspire to make all the right decisions in life, be honorable, treat others with respect, hope we're judged fairly by others.

And yet we make many mistakes along the way.

Which in some way makes us no different from Walter Payton.

Just because your life or my life isn't an open book, it doesn't mean we're any different from Walter Payton.
So we should not let this week change our feelings about the legendary Chicago Bears running back, who often was the definition of grace both on and off the playing field.

Of course, a firestorm is raging after an excerpt went online at SI.com earlier this week regarding the book about Payton to be released Tuesday by author Jeff Pearlman. The dirt being dished in "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton" - that Payton abused pain-killers and laughing gas, had a longtime mistress, that he contemplated suicide after retirement, that he made mistakes in life - is basically what people will focus on with this book.

Many, from Chicago to far reaches, have been outraged that a hero will be cut down in a book to be published a dozen years after his death from cancer and liver problems. Mike Ditka, who coached Payton with the Bears, has gone to the extent that he calls Pearlman "gutless" and that he would spit on him if given the chance.

Still others are waving a holier-than-thou finger of "I told you so ..." about what's wrong with worshipping heroes.

Is it possible Walter Payton made mistakes that he would regret, sure. But the negatives didn't outweigh the positives with this man.

The book can't dismiss how Payton lived up to his stature in countless ways. Even Pearlman, a highly respected writer who surely gets his facts straight, is reminding people to read all 460 pages of the book, not just a small sampling.

"Go through the Columbia, Mississippi years; the Jackson State years; the down days in Chicago, when the Bears were a joke and Walter Payton was the only beacon of hope," Pearlman wrote on Thursday in his blog.

Don't forget his post-NFL days, either. Payton was active in the community and with charities, so many causes such as the American Heart Association, March of Dimes, Boy Scouts, United Way and Peace Corps, just to name a few.

Of course, back in 1987, Payton lent his name to the Walter Payton Award, which lives on in its silver anniversary this season, bestowed on the outstanding player in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA college football).

Payton presented The Sports Network-created award to recipients before his death and Payton family members remain active with it today. Be certain that the recipients and their school and conference feel so blessed to be linked to Payton and the award.

Pearlman's lament is that the book will hurt the Payton family, namely his children. What this book should not do - and I suspect Pearlman would feel the same - is destroy Walter Payton's legacy.

It's just a definitive book. The good and bad in life.

The Payton family released a statement Thursday that began, "Walter, like all of us, wasn't perfect."

None of us is, of course.

Just because your life or my life isn't an open book, it doesn't mean we're any different from Walter Payton when it comes to shortcomings.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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