Jeff Pearlman

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Chatting with Halli Briscoe

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So I very much enjoy engaging with people, via Twitter and Facebook about my books. If you have questions, compliments, complaints, I almost always reply. Heck, if you’re taking the time to read (or consider reading), who am I to ignore or play dumb? I’m just a guy who writes books. Cool job, but nothing special.

This is a long lead up to Halli Briscoe, a girl from Texas who, I believe, will soon be attending Oregon State. I’m not 100 percent sure of Halli’s age—so it’s unclear whether she’s off to college this fall or in a couple of years. Her Twitter bio reads: “He died for me, I live for Him. Prosper. WOGA. Future OSU Beaver. Jeremiah29:11{Never Die Easy}”

Earlier today, Halli hit me up at Twitter with this …

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 9.39.13 PMIt’s not the first time someone criticized my book, “Sweetness,” but it was surprising considering: A. Halli is sort of on the young side for Walter Payton devotion; B. The criticism pretty much died once people actually (gasp!) read the book; C. It’s the first time (I think) I’ve actually been accused of, literally, printing “lies” about Payton—a man I came to truly love and admire.

Anyhow, I asked Halli to elaborate, and she did. With this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 9.38.25 PMI followed by asking whether she’d actually read my book. She replied again, thusly …

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 9.37.18 PMBeing that Halli put a good amount of time into her thoughts and questions, I wanted to give an equal amount of devotion to the answers. I also want to commend her. First, because she clearly has a very real, very strong love of Sweetness, and hasn’t allowed the 16 years since his death to dull that. Second, because she spoke out. As people should do. It’s easy to say nothing; to sit back and stew without emoting. So, truly, Halli Briscoe deserves props. And I’m quite certain she’ll do Oregon State very well.

Now, with nary a morsel of anger, I’ll answer the questions to the best of my abilities. I’ll go backward:

A. Halli, asking whether you read the book was not my way of trying to sell a copy. This is probably far too much information, but by now (contractually, royalties-wise) you purchasing “Sweetness” off of Amazon or at the local Barnes & Noble makes me nary a cent. I asked if you read the book because you seemed to have limited information on its content. Feel free to e-mail me at anngold22@gmail.com and I’ll send you a copy for free.

B. I have read the Bible. Much of it I love. Much of it I don’t love. This is just a differing of opinion between two people. Your faith is your faith, my lack of faith is my lack of faith. The Tebow post you’re referring to was sloppily done, and you’re right to rip it. I was pointing toward his family’s missionary work, which struck me as somewhat misguided. But the blog entry stunk. All the crap I took was warranted.

C. As for my sources: I interviewed 678 people for “Sweetness.” That’s a personal record and, I think, pretty darn thorough. I’m not sure why you’re under the impression I never spoke with Matt Suhey—we had three different interview sessions, including one lengthy in-person sit-down. I also met, in person, with Walter’s brother, Walter’s son, Walter’s daughter. I spent tons of time with his childhood friends, with his college friends, with his college and professional teammates. As for Ginny and Bud, you’re simply misinformed. First, both people were suggested to me by others close to Walter. Bud Holmes represented Walter from the time he was drafted through the completion of his career. That’s 13 seasons and an enormous amount of time together. And yes, you’re right, Bud did encourage Walter to retire—rightly. In 1987 Walter Payton was a shell of his former self. He lacked both the burst and physicality of his younger self, and by the end watching him run was just sad. Agents are supposed to look out for the best interest (physically and financially) of a client. In that regard, Bud did.

Also, you’re right—Bud did not have any involvement in “Never Die Easy.” The relationship between Walter and Bud faded after his retirement. But, considering my book was about Walter’s entire life, and not merely the 12 years between retirement and death, Bud’s input was vital. Most people who knew Walter would tell you a Paytion biography without Bud Holmes isn’t a Payton biography.

Now, before I get to Ginny, let me backtrack and explain one thing that, at your age, I didn’t know, either. Namely, athlete autobiographies aren’t actually written by the athletes (with v-e-r-y rare exception). Walter Payton did not sit down with a pad and pen and write “Never Die Easy.” He conducted a bunch of interviews with a ghost writer (a hired journalist, in this case Don Yaeger), and that person wrote the book. Because Walter was very ill, he had little involvement with the final product—which was released after his death. So when you say “Never Die Easy” involved “the people who knew him best,” you’re sort of misinformed. The book was lovely and warm and nice and inspirational. Really, it was. But “Never Die Easy” was also shallow and incomplete. It missed many key figures from Walter’s life, mainly because they were people who also knew of Payton’s dark side (especially pertaining to the hoax that, by his life’s end, was his marriage to Connie—a woman he didn’t even live with).

Ginny worked with Walter for years and years and years. She was by his side more than any other person in his life—and there was no close second. This is a fact that will go undisputed. She was his confidant, his shadow, his muse. She was by his side at the time of his death, and handled full arrangements of the funeral. Walter’s first choice for the executor of his estate was not Matt Suhey. It was Ginny.

Furthermore, nobody forced Walter to make celebrity appearances. He was his own man, and this idea that he “despised” publicity is just off. Heck, he hosted a radio show for years; did commercials for myriad products; hosted Saturday Night Live and sang a jingle for Kentucky Fried Chicken. There was no gun to his head.  Bud and Ginny brought opportunities; certainly encouraged some of them and discouraged others. But Walter Payton made appearances because they paid well and he enjoyed the limelight. Period. Nothing wrong with that.

Again, Halli, I’m not mad. Or defensive. I get it. Having a hero is special, and you want that person to meet your expectations.

The sad reality, however, is that even the greatest among us are human. With flaws and warts and scars. Nobody’s perfect. But, in learning about those imperfections, we’re able to greater appreciate how one overcomes tough times to thrive and excel.

That was Walter Payton. The real Walter Payton.

  • sanford943

    It will be interesting to hear her response.

  • sanford943

    I was going through some of her twitter feed. She mentioned being 17, So not a college student yet.

  • Halli Briscoe

    First, thank you for taking your time to respond to my questions relating to your writing. I do appreciate it. When I said that you wrote “lies” about Walter Payton I had read an article from the past on ESPN’s website. I realize that in today’s day and age it is very common for people to read one piece of information and not consider the sources aligned with the information. In order to avoid misconception I looked into the author (you). Once I found the Tim Tebow article, where you stated your opinion as fact, I made an assumption that you did the same thing with “Sweetness” (And I know what they say about assuming).

    I am fully aware that “Never Die Easy” was not written by Walter himself, hence the Author’s Note which explains the format. Also, I would like to note that this too was a book describing his entire life. However, if there was a “dark side” (I would need to research this further), it was not present in this book. To me this seems appropriate because Walter was a great role model to so many. His great humility was uncanny in today’s society. His incredible work ethics was inspiring to all athletes. His friendly nature lit up crowds of all ages. He was overall an awe-inspiring man. Therefore, he should be remembered as the great, loving guy he constantly proved to be. This is not to go without saying that I am sure he did make mistakes because every person does. I realize that even our heroes lack perfection because perfection is a nonexistent quality in humans. I do understand that it is possible for Walter to have had a dark side, but what I question is why you would project this side of him. Is it necessary to tear down one of the great role models of the past just to prove imperfection? Nobody is without fault, and nobody goes through this life on earth without sinning. This is a known fact. We all make mistakes, we all sin, we all possess imperfect qualities; but that is why Jesus came down to sacrifice himself for us. No person is perfect, and that is why we needed saving from Christ. So, obviously by understanding that everyone has their faults I fully understand your urge to show that even the greatest of us make mistakes. However, there is absolutely no reason to take someone such as Walter Payton and display all of his sins to a world that he was inspiring to become better. Role models are very limited lately. So, I don’t understand why we would take the role models we have and turn them into bad guys. Especially if they are someone you “came to truly love and admire”.

    In closing, I found it humorous that you said “I am not mad”. I could see how one may think that my comments, coming from a 17 year old girl, would be an attempt at drawing you into a catty Twitter argument. However, I truly appreciate your professionalism in allowing this to be a good intellectual debate instead. I hope this type of conversation can serve as an example that people can disagree without being so quick to be offended and defensive.

  • Tom Ehlebracht

    Halli, almost all pro athletes retire too early (in their own mind), i.e.Brett Favre.

    I pre-ordered “Sweetness” on Amazon.com and read it right away. I live in a suburb of Chicago and am Walter’s age. I followed Walter’s life from being drafted by The Bears to the end. The book made me very sad. I didn’t and don’t blame Jeff. I already knew or had “heard” 90% of what he wrote after Walter became a Bear. His gun troubles were on local news and his marital problems were “whispered” among local fans. If you check the back of The Book there are references (sources) up the “Wazoo”. I was very familiar with two very minor stories, yet both were spot on and both carried two sources each . The sources I know very well. Having that information, I refuse to question any part of “Sweetness”. Walter Payton was also one of my Heros in his professional career and his treatment of people. I have also read The Bible.
    One of my new interests is I’m following the concussion effects in The NFL. Walter Payton took as many, if not more, head shots than any safety or linebacker and played on a “rock” hard “Astro-turf” field at his time.
    I recently re-read “Sweetness” and could not help wondering what effect concussion damage had on his personal life after football. I believe I understand more about his problematic life but I’m very concerned for other NFL players.

    • Halli Briscoe

      Tom, thank you for your additional input. It helps to hear this information regarding Walter and some of the faults he may have had from another source.

  • Steve Hare

    Halli, in 1981 I was the NFL’s Mascot of the Year and flipped the coin at the Pro Bowl.

    During my week in Hawaii I met nearly every player and have tons of photos with them. Almost every player graciously took a moment to put his arm around me and smile for a picture…all but one.

    That one? Walter Payton.

    It was very disappointing because he was…and still is…one of my all-time favorite players.

    Walter came out holding a Sprite and fixed his cuff link while standing for a photo.I don’t fault him for it nor do I hold ill will against him. Maybe I caught him at a bad time…maybe he didn’t feel like taking a picture.

    The point is, as you mentioned, we all have faults. Walter wasn’t perfect. He certainly was a great player.

    He also had the time to pose with Ms. Hawaii (for the record, I have a picture of her kissing my cheek…so take that Walter!).

    I was no Bears fan but I’ll always be a Walter Payton fan, even after getting the photo snub.

    • Steve Hare

      And somebody please explain to me what the hell the two guys are doing in the bottom photo!

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life