Walter Payton, legendary running back for the Chicago Bears,  had a reputation in the NFL for his strength, speed, and tenacity. His nickname, “Sweetness,” referred to his running style but eventually embodied his public persona.

Sportswriter Jeff Pearlman chronicles the story of the football icon in Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, from his childhood in Mississippi to his college years and 13-year pro career. Sweetness also covers Payton’s experiences off the field and gives the tragic details of the illness that took his life at just 45 years of age.

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Bill’s thoughts on Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton:

Jeff Pearlman’s biography of Walter Payton has generated considerable heat because lots of people prefer to remember Payton according to the image he, his associates, and his wife carefully built. The official version of Payton had him retiring happily after a career with the Chicago Bears that was not only freakishly productive but squeaky clean. Payton was a powerful, record-shattering runner who never turned down an autograph request, unless the request interfered with the performance of his duties as a faithful husband and loving father.

In his research, Pearlman turned up infidelity, an illegitimate child Payton refused to acknowledge, drug dependency, serious depression, and suicidal thoughts and declarations. Pearlman has advised those who object to the revelations to read the portions of the book in which he celebrates Payton as a superb competitor, an obliging friend to many fans, and a spokesperson for organ donation, even as he was dying of liver disease.

Each reader will have to decide for himself or herself whether Jeff Pearlman has presented a balanced account of the life of the man who relished the nickname “Sweetness” and worked hard to convince his public that he had earned it.