Mike Ditka told NBC Chicago on Thursday that he would spit on Jeff Pearlman, the author of an upcoming Walter Payton biography that has created quite a stir since Sports Illustrated released an excerpt in this week's issue.
I'd spit on him, Ditka, the former Chicago Bears coach, told NBC Chicago. I have no respect for him.
The book, Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton has caused backlash since SI published the excerpt on its Web site earlier this week.
Some of the more controversial subjects discussed in the book are Payton's alleged abuse of painkillers, extramarital affairs and the revelation that he considered suicide after his playing days were over.
Pathetic. Despicable. It serves no purpose, Ditka told the television station's Web site.
The book presents Payton in a new light from public perception, which often painted him as the fun-loving, do-no-wrong running back that was beloved in Chicago and throughout much of the football world.
For example, Pearlman includes a story that has never been told of Payton's Hall of Fame enshrinement weekend. That weekend, Payton attempted to keep his longtime wife, and his longtime mistress, from meeting.
Pearlman talked to NBC Chicago on Wednesday.
When we present people as a sort of athletic cliché, and this golden guy who has no flaws whatsoever, I think we do people a disservice, Pearlman told NBC Chicago. I don't think there's anything wrong with knowing that a person was flawed.
Much of the backlash has come from the book's publishing and bringing to surface this side of Payton's life so long after his death in 1999 from complications of a rare autoimmune disorder.
That was something with which Ditka took particular issue, while he also questioned the authenticity of Pearlman's reporting.
If you're going to wait 12 years after somebody's passed, come on, Ditka told Chicago's ESPN 1000 radio station. This is the sign of a gutless individual who would do this. Totally gutless who would hide behind that, and that's what he's done.
Pearlman, though, has in actuality done anything but hide since the excerpt was published and the backlash began. He has taken to his Twitter page to defend his work and encourage people to read the entire book before they judge it.
He also penned a post on his personal blog entitled The Truth in response.
Maybe the Never Die Easy depiction of Walter Payton's life-terrific family man, happy go lucky, not especially deep-is the way to go, he wrote. Is it real? From a certain perspective, sure. But perhaps that's all sports fans want; to believe their heroes are only heroes, and nothing else matters. I don't agree. But I understand.