"Mr. Halberstam would have been the first to insist that we not confuse fiction with nonfiction, and that we not mistake biography -- the telling of a life -- for hagiography -- the burnishing of a legend. Which was football's big trouble last week, it turns out, as lots of folks who should know better took exception to a new biography of Walter Payton."
—ESPN.com, "The Sporting Life"
"I found the Walter of your book to be more of a hero than the one people refer to."
—Rick Hogan, WGN Sunday Papers
I have read the book and I can tell you your appreciation of Walter will be heightened if you read the whole book and not just the excerpt — Rick Kogan
"Jeff Pearlman has written Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, which depicts Mr. Payton as perhaps the greatest all-around football player ever, a generous teammate and a loving father."
—Scott Simon, NPR Weekend Edition
"Over the weekend I read an advance copy of Sweetness and found it to be an incredible, thoughtful, deep and profound read. It’s exceptional work. I wouldn’t let an out-of-context excerpt and some enraged condemnations get in the way of a fascinating read about a fascinating man."
—Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
"READ THE BOOK...But if you like texture, if you want to get the sense of a real life lived by a real person with real beauty within and real warts, start reading and do so with an open mind."
—The Indianapolis Star
"Pearlman did not set out to expose Payton but to understand him, to identify and define the qualities that made him so appealing. He was a football-playing hero to millions, true, but he was also a human being of considerable complexity. There’s a story in how those two sides intersected, and a skilled biographer gets to that story ... If Walter Payton, magnificent football player and Chicago treasure, is enough for you, ignore the book and cherish your memories. If Walter Payton, flawed but fascinating human being, intrigues you, read it. You might come away with a greater appreciation."
—The New York Times
If Walter Payton, magnificent football player and Chicago treasure, is enough for you, ignore the book and cherish your memories. If Walter Payton, flawed but fascinating human being, intrigues you, read it. You might come away with a greater appreciation
SI.com and Wall Street Journal writer Pearlman (Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty, 2008, etc.) delivers a definitive biography of one of the NFL's all-time greats. Though some of Walter Payton's (1954–1999) records have been broken since his 1987 retirement, his image as a gridiron hero, and arguably football's greatest-ever running back, has endured. Pearlman's book provides much to enhance that image, and a bit to tarnish it as well. An extraordinarily gifted athlete known for his ferocious stiff-arm, his refusal to run out of bounds and his unparalleled work ethic, Payton was, and is, beloved by football fans. But to those who knew him, even close friends and family, he was an enigma. Praised as the ultimate team player, he would sulk and whine if not given the ball as much as he felt he deserved. After years of carrying mediocre Chicago Bears teams, Payton threw his equipment to the ground in disgust and hid in a closet after finally winning a Super Bowl, when Bears coach Mike Ditka allowed William "Refrigerator" Perry, not Payton, to score a touchdown in the game. Known for going out of his way to befriend marginal players who were certain to be cut, for spending hours with sick children, for knowing the names and backgrounds of every employee, Payton was an absentee father and serial womanizer who provided financial support for, but never met or acknowledged, his illegitimate son. Pearlman at first seems not to recognize the disparity, repeatedly describing Payton as a humble man while recounting anecdotes that indicate otherwise. Eventually the author confronts the puzzling contradictions of his subject's personality, but refrains from psychoanalysis or other attempts to explain them. The section on the infamous 1985 Bears, a team rife with dysfunction everywhere but on the field, is a highlight, as is the description of Payton's senior year in high school, when Mississippi schools were forced to desegregate. The book's devastating conclusion shows the familiar depressing decline of an athlete in retirement and his shocking death from cancer at 45. A highly readable warts-and-all portrait of an athletic giant, but those who prefer their idols unblemished may want to steer clear.