When Sean Payton was inducted into the Naperville Central Hall of Fame, he wasn't able to attend the ceremony, but he did send a video message to students.
In it, he said that the defining moments in life are the times of difficulty and hardship.
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What matters, he said, is "how you handle those things, and your ability to persevere, and your ability to look forward to the next challenge and really get back off the mat every time."
What a powerful and ironic sentiment to read now.
Last week, the NFL announced a one-year suspension for Payton for his role in a New Orleans Saints bounty program that allegedly paid players to target their opponents for injury. As the head coach, Payton's sins were not limited to that. He also apparently tried to orchestrate a cover-up, according to the news media reports.
Quite a shocking scandal. In some respects, it is even more shocking when it involves a native son -- not just a celebrity creation but someone we in the suburbs watched grow up, a real someone we thought we knew, someone whose success gave us pride.
"We still hold him in high esteem," Naperville Mayor George Pradel said, "and I'm not sure how he got caught up in it, but we're supporting him as a Napervillian in whatever he does. I just want the very best for Sean Payton."
Sean Payton probably isn't the most revered sports figure ever to come out of Naperville. While his athletic prowess was considerable, he competed (and perhaps was even overshadowed) in his high school era with the likes of quarterback Chuck Long at Wheaton North, and his stoic Bill Parcells demeanor didn't lend itself to charismatic likability.
No, the reverence honors probably go to Naperville's legendary Candace Parker, whose winsome personality matches her basketball skill. Or perhaps to Evan Lysacek, the Olympic figure skater who danced with the stars. The city held a Candace Parker Day and an Evan Lysacek Day, but there was nothing similar for Payton to celebrate the Saints Super Bowl title in 2009.
Still, there's little argument with the huge success Payton made of his coaching career and the pride he inspired in the community.
Here we are then, a hometown hero tarnished. What are we to make of it?
Perhaps just this: Heroes, whether local or larger than life, are in the end flesh and blood, and it is good to appreciate that about them.
And this: Even good people are flawed. Even those who normally do the right thing sometimes get caught up in the momentum of aspirations and do the wrong thing.
To Sean Payton, our native son, we say what we would say to any son: What matters is how you handle this, recognize your mistakes, learn from them.