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Home Sports Originally published September 29, 2011

Walter Payton Unsweetened

Book Creates Unflattering Portrait of NFL Icon

by AFRO Staff

    In this Dec. 20, 1987, file photo, Chicago Bears' Walter Payton carries the ball during an NFL football against the Seattle Sehawks in Chicago. According to a new book, Payton abused painkillers in retirement and became suicidal. In "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton," author Jeff Pearlman says the Hall of Fame running back used a cocktail of Tylenol and Vicodin in retirement, kept tanks of nitrous oxide in his garage and even obtained Ritalin from a friend whose son was prescribed pills. (AP Photo/John Swart, File)
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An unauthorized biography of NFL legend Walter Payton is causing quite a stir raising an image of the deceased hall of famer as a drug abuser and adulterer.

Excerpts of the book, “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton,” were published in this week’s edition of Sports Illustrated. In one passage, author Jeff Pearlman details Payton’s abuse of Darvon, a painkiller, among other things.

“The burden of loneliness and his marriage weren't Payton's only problems. As a player he had numbed his maladies with pills and liquids, usually supplied by the Bears,” Pearlman wrote. “Payton popped Darvon robotically during his playing days, says [his longtime agent Bud] Holmes, ‘I'd see him walk out of the locker room with jars of painkillers, and he'd eat them like they were a snack’…”

The book also detailed Payton’s extramarital affairs and how an affair with a flight attendant nearly compromised his Hall of Fame induction weekend. Pearlman uses the faux name of Lita Gonzalez to protect the women’s identity.

“‘I'm coming to the ceremony,’ Gonzalez said. ‘There's no way I'd miss it.’ The last thing Payton needed was to have his Hall of Fame weekend complicated and compromised,” Pearlman wrote. “But Lita was coming, and she expected to be treated as his girlfriend.”

Payton’s widow, Connie says she doesn’t plan on reading the book and refutes the claims of drug abuse and infidelity.

“I didn't see him take any Tylenol so I didn't see anything stronger than that,” she told United Press International. “He didn't believe in taking medicine.”

Payton, who is still revered by many and has the NFL Man of the Year award named after him, has current players coming to his defense. Current Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher, who has dealt with public discussion of his personal affairs after revelations that he fathered a child out of wedlock, says the author is just trying to get noticed.

“I never got a chance to meet him,” Urlacher said of the running back to the Chicago Tribune, “ but from everything I’ve heard about the way he treated people, the way he was with people, I have nothing but respect for him.”

“So whatever some jackass says in some book or whatever … I just want to know, are there any quotes from Walter in there? What about his wife? Well, I don’t put too much stock in that.”