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Pearlman stands by his portrayal of Payton in polarizing book

Walter Payton is back in the public consciousness following the release of the controversial biography, "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton," by Jeff Pearlman.

The book shows another side of the Chicago Bears great, detailing personal battles that included family struggles, pill abuse and depression.

Predictably, Pearlman has received a good deal of criticism for his warts-and-all portrayal of Payton, who died from a rare form of cancer in 1999. He was 45.

"A Football Life: Walter Payton" debuted Thursday night on NFL Network, so Pearlman was a guest this week on "The Dave Dameshek Football Program," where he discussed the backlash that has come with the book's release.

"I do think when celebrities and icons like Walter Payton die young, we tend to sort of place them on a completely ludicrous and unrealistic pedestal where we think they were these sort of gods," said Pearlman, who also authored "Boys Will Be Boys," a book about the 1990s Dallas Cowboys. "My point is there's nothing wrong with learning people are human and people have hardships to overcome."

Perhaps the most notable figure to speak out against Pearlman was Mike Ditka, the ex-Bears coach who actually said he would spit on Pearlman if given the opportunity. Ditka's anger surprised Pearlman.

"Mike Ditka has devoted a ton of time, to his credit, to helping retired NFL players deal with hardships after their careers," Pearlman said. "Well, here's perhaps the greatest player in the history of the NFL, and lo and behold, we find out he has hardships, too, that he struggled, that he was aimless and sort of lost and had family problems and had painkiller problems and didn't know what to do with himself."

Pearlman said he didn't write the book to expose an NFL legend. The unflattering things that came out of his research helped tell the complete story of Payton's life.

"What I really think what bothers people, and what bothers most people in Chicago, isn't the fact that I wrote something that's going to hurt some people. It's that I wrote something that hurt them," he said. "And that they had an idealized image of Walter Payton, an unrealistic image of Walter Payton, and the truth was he was a man just like me and my dad and 8 million people out there."

Payton's son, Jarrett, told the Chicago Tribune on Thursday that he was looking forward to the NFL Films documentary and holds no grudge against the author of the book.

"I hope people see the documentary for what it is, and I think it's a great piece," Payton said. "Pearlman's in it, so I don't want people to discredit it and not look at it because he's in it. I want them to really see it for what it is and just watch it."

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