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Thursday, September 29, 2011
Updated: September 30, 5:35 PM ET
Mike Ditka doubts Walter Payton book

ESPNChicago.com

Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka dismissed the author of a controversial new book on Walter Payton as "totally gutless."

Jeff Pearlman's book, which includes allegations of Payton, who died in 1999, being suicidal, abusing pain medication and being unfaithful to his wife, is titled "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton" and will be released Oct. 4. An excerpt of the book will appear in the Oct. 3 issue of Sports Illustrated.

"I think it's ridiculous to me," Ditka said Thursday on "Carmen, Jurko & Harry" on ESPN 1000. "What's the point? What's the point? The point is one thing only -- to sell books. That's all it's about. It's a bunch of crap, first of all.

"If you're going to wait 12 years after somebody's passed, come on. This is the sign of a gutless individual who would do this. Totally gutless who would hide behind that, and that's what he's done."

Payton retired after the 1987 season as the then-all-time leading rusher in NFL history, and according to the book, he was depressed and suicidal in the mid-1990s. Pearlman cites a letter from Payton to a friend, in which Payton said he imagined himself killing those around him and then turning a gun on himself.

"I learned a long time ago people can point the finger, say anything they want to say," Ditka said. "What gives [Pearlman] any credibility? What's his expertise? I know he's an author, and the only way he would know anything is to get information from other people. Who's to say the other people he got information from gave authentic information? He didn't get it from the horse's mouth. He didn't get it from Walter. I have a lot of questions about the authenticity of the book."

Pearlman was on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 Friday and was played the audio of Ditka's response to the book.

"No. 1, I think it's utterly, utterly ridiculous and such an impulse, mindless, inane response," Pearlman said of Ditka. "First of all, yeah, I did it for the money. I took three years working on this book. Three years of my life devoted to this project. Who did I talk to? I talked to 678 people for this book. I interviewed as many people as humanly possible.

"I sat down with (Payton's son) Jarrett. I sat down with (Payton's daughter) Brittney. I sat down with (Payton's brother) Eddie. I sat down with his agent. I sat down with everyone I could possibly sit down with. I sat down with Mike Ditka at his bar in downtown Chicago.

"I understand the emotional reaction. I really do. He's emotional about it. This is a player he loved. I get it. I understand it. I also understand that Sports Illustrated ran a five-page excerpt with snippets from different parts of his life after his career was over. The book is 460 pages long."

Count former Bears linebacker and Payton teammate Ron Rivera among those who will not read the book.

"It's unfortunate somebody wrote a book and throws that kind of light on somebody who's not here to defend himself," Rivera, who was a teammate of Payton's from 1984 to 1987, said Thursday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show." "I think it's a shame.

"He was a tremendous person, and most certainly was a very good friend to me."

Rivera, who returns to Soldier Field on Sunday as coach of the Carolina Panthers, credits Payton with helping him start his coaching career.

"I feel real bad that somebody would throw those things out there, and probably because I don't think they're true," Rivera said.

"The time I spent with Walter after our careers had ended as football players and being around each other, he was always tremendous. He was always good and always good about where he was, who he was and the people that were there with him. He really is an icon in my eyes. And he always will be."