I love reading. Reading is like a meditative exercise to me. It’s one of the few things that can really help me take a step back, relax and not worry about about my problems. I can really get lot in a book whether I am imagining what kind of Quidditch player I would be, how Stephen King amped up people’s fear of clowns with Pennywise or learn something interesting about a person.
The last book I read was a definitive biography of a Football Great called, “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton” by Jeff Pearlman.
Walter Payton was the epitome of a Football player. He was tough, determined, muscular, graceful and a gentleman on and off the field. He played hurt, he carried his team, the Chicago Bears during their losing seasons and did the rarest of things in Football by following a legend like Gale Sayers. Walter Payton went on to be a Hall of Famer, held the rushing title, won a Super Bowl and is considered by NFL.com, a Top 5 All-Time player.
Most importantly to his teammates on the Chicago Bears and the teams fans. He was a beloved hero who’s exploits as a player on and off the field can be recited like poetry from fans and teammates who watched him play.
The NFL and his peers thought so highly of him, they named the award to recognize a player’s achievements in Community Service, “The Walter Payton Award”.
Walter died on November 1st, 1999 from a rare form of Cancer in his bile ducts. A man once considered, “indestructible” became “destructible”, no longer looking like the Adonis he was on the football field.
Walter Payton is the “person you want to be”. We all have that one person you look up to and want to be when you grow up whether it is your parents, a mentor, a teacher who believed in you, and a celebrity or meaningful historical figure.
When I read the book I was really touched in what I learned about Walter Payton. The indestructible man who was loved and revered by many was someone different than the Walter Payton I thought I knew.
Walter Payton was a Human Being. A man who bleeds the same as me. An insecure, depressed man who treated women like they were objects, blew his money, and walked away from his illegitimate son. A person who wasn’t perfect and in fact, very flawed.
Even knowing what I know, I can say this without any hesitancy like the writer had mentioned himself in the conclusion of the book. I respect Walter Payton more than ever before and in a way I see myself in him.
Those who know me best and see the person who tries at all costs to avoid hurting anyone I care and love and read the Walter Payton book or googled his story, probably won’t understand how I can see that but I do.
I see the person who tries so hard to be the person everyone expects him to be that he feels he will never live up to that whether he is the greatest running back ever or just a person looking simply looking for inner peace.
I see the person who’s trying to figure things out but really doesn’t know how to despite trying hard.
I see the person who’s scared of life and what it can bring sometimes even when he has it figured out.
I don’t think any of Walter’s actions especially abandoning his child are forgivable but I can understand the pain and the depression he must have felt around that time and I don’t think there was a time when he didn’t regret that decision.
It’s like feeling you are on fire and about to explode on the inside, but afraid to tell anyone else in fear you will get them burned also and yet you will get that person burned anyway.
Despite his infidelities and bad decisions, Walter did possess a sense of humanity which endeared people to him to the point they still loved him knowing some of the wrongs he did. He always was charitable and made time for sick children and teammates in need of a friend.
I think it says something that the people who knew him the best, saw his flaws and his mistakes yet still cared for the man and were heartbroken when he passed away.
If there is a lesson in Walter Payton, that lesson is as much as it sounds cliched is that where all human beings, all flawed in some way or form. Our heroes aren’t our heroes because they were perfect people, they are our heroes because they were imperfect people.
-V. for Vinnie