Life as Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton’s son might not be as easy as some would think. While Jarrett Payton’s parents taught him to be grateful for all he had been given and how important it was for him to give back, he still had to face those who didn’t respect others like he did.
Today the Jarrett Payton Foundation is working to counteract bullying, and on April 26, a bags tournament in Naperville will benefit the organization.
Jarrett’s trouble started during his junior year at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights when he decided to switch from soccer, a sport he had been playing since he was three, to football.
“It was inevitable I would one day play the sport my dad played,” said the younger Payton. “And it would be a big deal here.”
The conflict arose when he talked to a friend who was the quarterback, the same position Jarrett wanted to play. The friend assured him he was going to focus on baseball, but instead entered the football season out of shape and accused Jarrett of conspiring against him, especially because Jarrett’s father was friends with the head coach.
“I call it the worst year of my life,” Jarrett said. “I was unfocused, and it altered the path of where I wanted to go to college.”
Instead of just one student wanting to beat up Jarrett, he could find five to 10 guys headed his way, creating safety concerns as he walked through the halls of St. Viator.
Jarrett was able to turn the situation around, using it as motivation to work harder to prepare for his senior football season, which then earned him a football career at the University of Miami. But Jarrett also sees today that he had an advantage: in the late 1990s when he was in high school, he could go home and get away from the bullying. There was no social media following him wherever he went.
And because he sees kids coping with something much more challenging, he wants to make a difference. His Jarrett Payton Foundation is his means to doing that.
“Kids now deal with a lot more,” he said. “And my dad always said kids are the future.”
Payton is an advocate of using social media to build relationships with kids after he’s spoken to them at schools.
“Social media goes a long way but also keeps the conversation going,” he said.
Jarrett created the foundation with wife Trisha, and together they want to promote leadership qualities in kids as well as health and wellness and community involvement. Their focus is middle schools, but they work with older kids as well.
Nicole Tudisco, the owner of Wheatland Realty in Naperville, entered the Paytons’ lives when she helped them buy a house. Helping the Paytons further their cause was an easy decision.
“Trisha and Jarrett are constantly going somewhere and doing something for someone,” Tudisco said. “They are such hard-working down-to-earth people, and I see the effects of his talking to kids.”
A big surprise for Jarrett was learning how much kids today know about his father who starred for the Bears in the 1970s and 1980s, and died at age 45 in 1999.
“When parents teach their kids about the Bears, he is the first name that comes up,” Jarrett said. “The Internet keeps him alive. The kids know his stats, and as long as there is football around, people will know who he is.”
And because they know his dad, the kids all want to meet Jarrett.
“He is the face kids want to see,” Trisha said.
Jarrett knows he has an opportunity. While he was bullied, he also realizes that his dad taught him something more.
“My dad was bigger than life, but he gave people time,” Jarrett said.