Image copyright Getty Images Image caption One-time Howard University football star (pictured) pleaded not guilty to 20 counts of child rape.
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Born in 1968, Walter Payton was a formidable running back who won the 1982 Heisman Trophy. With an 11,272-yard career and 39 NFL touchdowns, he is a legend.
But the most enduring – and disturbing – image of Payton from his playing days to the present day is that of himself at an off-season party over a decade ago with two teenage girls. He lied about his age, they say, sexually assaulted them and later passed them around among friends.
Today Payton is co-defendant in a criminal case against football team mates Greg El-Khoury and Jeffery Rapiee for alleged underage sex offences.
Fourteen women have come forward to accuse Payton of sexual assaults or molestation, with the Chicago Tribune reporting that he was the “main assailant”.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption He became the first black Heisman Trophy winner in 1982.
At the weekend he pleaded not guilty to all 20 counts, including predatory sexual assault and predatory criminal sexual assault.
The allegations have angered many who know Payton. His former coach at Stanford University, John Harbaugh, called the charges “defamerously horrible” in an ESPN interview.
Payton has never been charged with raping any of the women, and his attorney has called the case an “alleged publicity stunt”. But the judge’s refusal to dismiss all charges does present some significant challenges for Payton.
He was one of the first athletes to be paid a salary while playing in the National Football League, which began in 1920. He retired with the Bears in 1999 with 6,125 career yards and 37 touchdowns.
But in 2002 he was fired by the Chicago Bears after he admitted to partying at an off-season party with two underage girls in his vehicle. His former colleagues at Stanford University have said the story was exaggerated to create a scandal and distract attention from the NFL.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption He performed before a crowd of more than 50,000 at the 1981 Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Payton was twice named to the Pro Bowl, won the Professional Football Hall of Fame and was also the first black Heisman Trophy winner.
Payton set up The Walter Payton Foundation after he retired from playing in 1999. It was designed to benefit underprivileged kids through projects such as tutoring, scholarships and football camps.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption It started after Payton retired from football in 1999
Payton was an outspoken philanthropist in the Black community and took time out from his second season of playing for the Chicago Bears to lead a march in Memphis, Tennessee, following the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, in which four girls were killed.
Famous alumni of his foundation include musician Usher, R&B star Michael Bolton and former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka.
At a speaking engagement in 2004 Payton said he was concerned about the youth violence in Chicago.
“Let’s face it, the young people in this city don’t care about the kids from the inner city,” he said. “What we’re doing is wrong. We’ve got to get it together.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Payton started The Walter Payton Foundation.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Payton was concerned about the youth violence in Chicago.
“It’s wrong because they don’t think about the little kids, who can’t go to the park because the kid is being shot at,” he said.
“It’s wrong because there’s schools and homes and food deserts in the inner city and some of these kids really think that it’s just another car or a bullet is going to kill them,” he said.
Since his retirement from football he has served as an NFL commentator for NBC, an election judge for the New Orleans Hornets and the USA Today Sports editor at large.
He is also a devout Christian, and says he is travelling the world on ministry and public speaking tours.
The former athlete, who turned 62 on Sunday, was a notable person of interest as part of the investigation into the death of Boggs.
According to the Bears, he was one of four players from the squad who were escorted from the team bus on Monday, the day before the rest of the team boarded the plane to Los Angeles for a playoff game against the Rams.