I interviewed Eddie Payton last night; he’s Walter Payton’s brother. Eddie Payton was on to discuss his new book, Walter and Me: Standing in the Shadow of Sweetness. The book is a big brother’s look at his life with his famous younger brother and is an attempted refutation of a book that came out last year. That book was Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, by Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman, a book which was heavily praised for its thoroughness (the author says his research included interviews with almost 700 people) and the complete picture it gave of its subject. But it was also heavily criticized by some people in Walter’s camp for including assertions that Payton suffered depression, thoughts of suicide, drug addiction, and had fathered a son whom he supported financially, but chose never to meet.
Eddie Payton’s book was a direct response to the Pearlman book. It focuses on Eddie and Walter as brothers growing up in the south, their playing days together and Walter’s glory days with the Bears. It denies that Walter had an addiction problem and doesn’t address the issue of his illegitimate son. And Eddie Payton argues that Walter’s depression and suicidal musings were caused by CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition believed to be caused by repeated concussions. Eddie’s book is based, not on hundreds of interviews, but on his memories.
Which book captures the real Walter? The one that was done by a seasoned journalist or the one done by a loving brother? Good question, and one that might best be answered by another: aren’t there some people whose essence cannot be captured by just one book?