Payton Critical Context - Essay

Mark Sufrin

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Payton is the story of Walter Payton the football player more than of Walter Payton the man, but it is much more—and in some ways less—than a routine sports biography filled with stirring accounts of the star’s big games. Frequently somber in tone, it is more about the complex experience of being a professional football player than it is about the excitement of individual games. It is characteristic that the two games described most fully were the last, frustrating games of Payton’s final season.

Most of all, Payton is about the experience of looking back on a football career with both pride and regret when that career is over. Payton had a long career, especially for a running back, but he had loved football, and retirement was hard to accept. The book has little to say about the way race figured in Payton’s life, but it does emphasize that when he retired he had one last ambition: to be the first African-American owner of an NFL team.

Young football fans and aspiring players will find Payton exciting and readable and will learn from it. It may or may not strengthen their determination to make it to the NFL. It will, however, show them important things about what courage and determination mean and provide a realistic picture of how a decent, though not perfect, man dealt with the mixture of wins and losses that makes up life.