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Walter Payton’s Turn in the Mud

October 3, 2011

A new book on the life of the late football superstar Walter Payton exposes an alleged dark side to this highly regarded sports hero. The author claims that he has it from good sources that Payton abused prescription drugs both during his football career and afterward, and was unfaithful to his wife. Just what we need—another cynical hit job on a revered American athlete. What is it with society’s fascination with the underside of human behavior?

Payton wasn’t just a gifted athlete; he was admired for his community involvement as well as his ability to run past and through linebackers. In fact, the National Football League named one of its most prestigious awards after him. Generally, previous accounts presented a glowing vision of a man who was popular with teammates and fans alike, with measured humility despite his enormous talent. And I would argue, that is where it should have stopped.

My generation, unfortunately, may have been the last one to grow up in an innocent enough time that the worst thought we had of George Washington was the hyperbole that he supposedly chopped down a cherry tree without his father’s permission. More unfortunately, instead of cherishing this uplifting part of our education, no matter how incomplete it was, many of us spat on it instead. In our insistence to strip away the alleged “phoniness” and “hypocrisy” of our elders, we threw the baby out with the bath water and began to look in every nook and cranny for the bad instead of the good. In so doing, many of the cynical never learned the value of what is uplifting and good, seeing instead no noble purpose in anything—except perhaps in tearing down the existing order.

A couple of things come to mind on that score. One of them is the space program. Even as we experienced the ultimate triumph of landing men on the moon, many in our generation either pooh-poohed it saying the money could have been better spent elsewhere, or flat out believed that the whole thing was faked. Another later example was the fall of communism, which by the late 1980’s was viewed by many value-neutral Americans (i.e., liberals) as simply another form of government, worse than a free republic in some ways but superior in others.

This insatiable appetite for negativism has, in my opinion, caused much of the polarization we see in the political climate today. Certainly the liberal Democrats see nothing good about Republicans, conservative or otherwise. However, our side is not guiltless either. The hardest thing for me to believe about Obama’s presidency is the successful taking out of bin Laden and now his American-born successor in al Qaeda. Of course, the easy explanation is that trained professionals in the military, CIA, etc. made these things happen despite the administration’s many roadblocks. But the fact is that in the end, the president had to authorize them, regardless of the political calculus he performed prior to doing so.

The negativism has certainly bled into the Republican primary process, partly the fault of the candidates and their sniping at one another, but also the voters’ weariness hearing about all the faults and foibles of the candidates ad nauseam in the 24/7 news cycle. Good luck Chris Christie, and here’s hoping that when you enter the race, which looks more certain with each passing day, you have a tough enough hide to handle all the fat jokes.

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Copyright ©2011 Phil Perkins