A while back, I read Walter Payton’s biography. I didn’t watch a whole lot of football growing up, and honestly the Bears of the 80′s is only a dim memory from my childhood. But I knew of the legend and reputation of the man. I knew that he was the all-time NFL rushing leader, I knew that he was part of the ’86 Super Bowl-winning Bears, and I knew that they name the Man of the Year award after him. And I have seen many a highlight real with “Sweetness” over the last twenty years as I’ve become an avid fan of the NFL.

What I didn’t know, until I read this book, was the struggles that Walter Payton had in his personal life, particularly in his marriage. The biography I read was written posthumously, but it sounds like it was a well-known fact that Walter was unfaithful to his wife. And not just a few indescretions… the book details several long-term extra-marital affairs that he engaged in, and the story of an illegitimate child.

“Walter said he couldn’t see him . . . it would be too hard. I showed him pictures and he had a tear in his eye. Then he left and never looked back.” Two months later, on March 15, Connie gave birth to Brittney, the couple’s second child. The arrival was all over the news, and images showed Walter gazing lovingly toward his little girl. Before long, Payton would be named Chicago’s Father of the Year by the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative. He accepted the award.”

And this is the man that the NFL memorializes with their Man of the Year award? According to Wikipedia, The Walter Payton Man of the Year award is given annually by the National Football League honoring a player’s volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Payton_Man_of_the_Year_Award) But what about his infidelity? Not that Walter Payton didn’t do many other great things for his community and his family. But isn’t his legacy tarnished because of his affairs? Couldn’t the NFL find someone of higher integrity to name the award after?

Now, I’m reading Emmitt Smith’s book, Game On. I was following the NFL for most of Emmitt’s career, and have always had tremendous respect for him – as an athlete and as a man of integrity. I’ve long considered him one of the true good guys in the NFL. And that’s why I was surprised to read this quote from Emmitt: “I may have surpassed Walter’s rushing record, I will spend the rest of my life trying to live up to that man’s character.”

Unless Emmitt’s hiding some affairs of his own (which I highly doubt), I would say he’s already surpassed it. I’m frustrated that the NFL and a good chunk of our society turns a blind eye to infidelity. I remember all the hoopla around Steve McNair’s death. But take a look at how he died? Is it just me? I think the NFL’s Man of the Year award should be renamed to honor someone else… maybe even Emmitt Smith.