Don't be afraid of the Walter Payton book

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
11:00
AM ET
From the sound of it, not all of you are thrilled with a new book that delves into some dark issues in the life of Hall of Fame tailback Walter Payton. Among other things, Jeff Pearlman's "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton," describes drug use, suicidal thoughts and an uncomfortable marriage.

In the comments section of the ESPN.com news story, MoInChgo1985 wrote: "Walter Payton was my hero on the field. Nothing will ever change that or tarnish his memory. Whatever he did when he took off his cleats is none of my business or yours."

I get it. I can understand why you might not want to hear about the personal struggles of a hero who died nearly 12 years ago. You certainly have the option of not reading and/or ignoring whatever publicity the book generates.

Generally speaking, however, I appreciate legitimate attempts to develop fuller portraits of historical figures. To me, limiting legacies for the sake of preserving incomplete memories and/or protecting innocence doesn't strike me as a productive position.

As Pearlman wrote Thursday on his blog: "What's the point of history, if history can only be approved talking points?"

Based on the excerpt in this week's Sports Illustrated, Pearlman's information came from on-the-record interviews with people who were close to Payton. Obviously, the book will be publicly vetted and everyone will draw their conclusions. Payton's' family has released a statement on "recent disclosures" saying, in part, that "some [are] true, some untrue."

I'm planning to read the book when it's released next month. At the same time, I get where many of you are coming from. Payton retired when I was 14 years old. My only memory of him is gliding on a football field. But when given the choice between hoarding a potentially incomplete portrait or taking the opportunity to deepen it, I'll choose the latter every time. If you're going to dismiss the topic, I suggest you do it from a position of knowledge.

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