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Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton.

Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton by Walter Payton with Don Yaeger Crown, September 2000, $24.95, ISBN 0-679-46331-3

Walter Payton was an athlete who transcended the venue of sports. Like the losses of Arthur Ashe and Roberto Clemente, Payton's untimely death at the age of 44 was felt far outside of the football community. In the last days of his life, Payton worked on his autobiography. The book's title comes from his college coach's instructions, which he took to heart, "Never die easy. Why run out of bounds and die easy? Make that linebacker pay. It carries into all facets of your life. It's okay to lose, to die, but don't die without trying, without giving your best."

Nicknamed "Sweetness," the all-time rushing leader never ran away from his fans. His career, he said, was for their pleasure and to give them hope. So it seems that in his absence he wanted to leave this fine book filled with personal recollections and the memories of those who knew him best. The autobiography starts with Walter and the cast of his life recounting his early days as a youngster in Mississippi learning the value of hard work. Payton as a high school, college and professional athlete only knew one way to get into the end zone--over anyone who stood in his way. He would high step and finesse you if he could; he would take his punishment, and give some too, if he could not.

It was a treat to read how his elusive style was born. "When the kids in the neighborhood would play `it' I hated to get caught", confides Payton, "I started learning how to juke and spin to make me impossible to catch." The origin punishing style began on half of a football field. "You didn't have a lot of room to move around, so you had to learn how to shed tackles, dodge guys or go right over them."

We know this Walter Payton very well; he's the stuff of legend and highlight reels. The other side of Walter was his generosity. He was a true philanthropist, organizing and financing a Christmas toy drive for every child in the State of Illinois Department of Children and Family Services system because he did not want children to wake up on Christmas morning without presents. But here is the kicker; he did this for years, anonymously.

Still, Payton speaks with candor about the hurt he endured when he was unable to realize his dream of becoming the first African American to own a stake in an NFL team. He speaks so strongly about the pain and disappointment of that experience that it brings to mind another legendary athlete whose life is believed to have been shortened by battles to break down barriers--the great Jackie Robinson. For a time, the disappointment of losing the bid crushed Payton like a phalanx of overweight linebackers.

He did not get up quickly from this devastating hit; and when did, by his own admission, he was a wounded man. "This was the first loss I had ever suffered in my whole life. And it was a very public loss," shares Payton. "I was very devastated that other people were in control of my destiny again," he says. "The whole St. Louis loss was a blow I think I never recovered from." Payton was an excellent blocker, and it was clear that he wanted to share this painful story so that others could learn from his mistakes. In the throes of the loss of such a heroic man, it is his legacy that fans can turn to. His tireless efforts continue to pay off though, and athlete/owners such as Isaiah Thomas and Michael Jordan have surely benefited from Payton's earlier attempt to tackle the ownership issue.

However, Payton's final opponent was a cancer of the liver. He did not want to reveal his illness to the public, but rumors were swirling so he reluctantly disclosed his condition. Yet, even while veering toward a head-on collision with his own mortality, the love that Payton engendered and would sadly leave behind, was touchingly rendered in his memoir. Through this book, this revered sportsman and humanitarian will have the last word on the life he struggled so valiantly to live by his own rules. "If you ask me how I want to be remembered, it is as a winner. You know what a winner is? A winner is somebody who has given his best effort, who has tried the hardest they possibly can, who has utilized every ounce of energy and strength within them to accomplish something. It doesn't mean that they accomplished or failed, it means that they've given it their best. That's a winner."

D. T. Lee is a freelance writer
COPYRIGHT 2001 Cox, Matthews & Associates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Lee, D. T.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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