Although he hasn't read Jeff Pearlman's biography, "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton," Vikings coach and former Payton teammate Leslie Frazier has heard some of the details from those who have read excerpts published recently in Sports Illustrated.
"I have so much respect for Walter and his family," Frazier said after Thursday's practice. "As a person and as a player, it hurts me that things are written or said negatively about Walter. I remember a great friend, a great teammate as well. Those are the memories I hold on to."
Frazier played with Payton on the 1985 Bears team that won Super Bowl XX. A cornerback, Frazier's career ended with a knee injury in that Super Bowl. Payton, of course, went on to finish a Hall of Fame career. He retired as the NFL's career rushing leader, although Emmitt Smith would pass him. Payton died of cancer at 45 in 1999.
Pearlman's biography paints an ugly picture of Payton's personal life after football. Based on interviews with more than 700 sources, including Payton's personal assistant, Pearlman writes about Payton's infidelity, abuse of painkillers and how he often shared suicidal thoughts late in his life.
It doesn't sound like Frazier will be buying a copy of the book.
"It doesn't change my perception of Walter Payton," Frazier said. "I know the Walter that I knew. There person that he was around me and his teammates. What type of friend that he was, what type of teammate that he was. ... I just hurt for his wife and two kids. Walter's a good person."
The NFL's Man of the Year Award also bears Walter Payton's name.