Former Bears Coach Mike Ditka left no doubt about how he'd treat the writer of a new tell-all book about the secret life of Walter Payton.
"I'd spit on him," the coach said in an exclusive interview with NBC Chicago. "I have no respect for him."
The book, The Hero No One Knew, posits the idea that Payton took drugs, had extramarital affairs and often contemplated suicide.
"Pathetic. Despicable. It serves no purpose," Ditka said.
He said Pearlman's reporting shouldn't be trusted and the writing was likely motivated by money.
"People will buy it," Ditka said.
Pearlman writes that Payton wasn't just the smiling, hard-working, jokester who was beloved in Chicago. He was also prone to huge mood swings, and popped painkillers like they were candy. His Hall of Fame Enshrinement weekend was far from the joyous experience it should have been as Payton tried to keep his wife and his longtime mistress from meeting each other.
"When we present people as a sort of athletic cliché, and this golden guy who had no flaws whatsoever, I think we do people a disservice. I don’t think there's anything wrong with knowing that a person was flawed. I don’t think anything is wrong with knowing that a guy suffered through severe depression after his playing career was over, after he spent 13 years brutalizing his body… and living and dying with football and then it all of a sudden comes to an end and he doesn’t know what to do with his life," Pearlman told NBC Chicago on Wednesday.
It also gives a closer look at Payton's final days, as he hosted dinners for his old teammates. He reestablished a relationship with Mike Singletary, who says that Payton never asked, "Why me?"
Payton is shown to be an imperfect man, and after years of seeing the man as a hero, that is nothing short of shocking. But my impression that Payton was superhuman was not something wrong with him; rather, it was my ideal. I didn't want to believe that this man who would hurl himself into the end zone with no consideration for his safety would feel pain when he landed. It never occurred to me that he would be unhappy or cheat on his wife, though he was a human being prone to the mistakes of any other human being.
"I'd like to remember him for the way he was and the person he was and what he meant for this city," Ditka said.