Mike Penner (1957-2009)

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The last email correspondence I had with Mike Penner was predictable. I traded a few notes with him about some things and asked how he was doing a couple of month ago.

He responded: “Just trying to get through it.”

I checked this morning, and I still have an email address both for Penner and Christine Daniels. Mostly because I wasn’t sure which one to use after awhile. I’d send messages on both, figuring they’d reach him/her eventually.

But the news today that Mike apparently ended his tormented life at just 52 is heartbreakingly sad. It’s not fair.

Having covered some of the same beats with Mike — particularily the sports media — we crossed paths plenty of times, although I knew he’d rather have not left his house much of the time. He’d always send nice notes to me about something I’d written, and I’d return the favor. Mostly, the later.

I know of no one who has endured this daily, random hardship of trying to figure out gender assignment. For awhile, it seemed as Mike had it figured out. Once, it seemed to be settled, it wasn’t. I’m so sorry he had to endure such pain on a regular basis.

My condolences to him and his family, as well as to one of his best friends in the business, Billy Witz.

The Associated Press version of the story:

Los Angeles Times sports writer Mike Penner, who announced two years ago he was a transsexual and was changing his name to Christine Daniels, has died at age 52, the newspaper reported Saturday.

Penner was pronounced dead Friday at a hospital, said Los Angeles County coroner’s Lt. Brian Elias. He said coroner’s officials hadn’t yet performed an autopsy or issued an official cause of death.

The Times said in a story Saturday (linked here) that Penner was believed to have committed suicide. Penner had returned to using the name Mike Penner last year and was a Times columnist at the time of his death.

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In 25 years with the newspaper, Penner covered Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the Olympics, World Cup soccer, tennis and other sports. A fluid writer with a sharp wit, he worked at various times as a reporter, columnist and the newspaper’s Los Angeles Angels beat writer.

Times Editor Russ Stanton said Penner “respected our readers a great deal, enough to share with them his very personal journey.”

Penner revealed that journey on April 26, 2007, when he wrote a story for the Times headlined “Old Mike, New Christine,” in which he revealed he was taking a few weeks vacation and when he returned to his job as a sports writer it would be as a woman named Christine Daniels.

“I am a transsexual sports writer,” Penner wrote. “It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words.”

The announcement sent shock waves through the sports world, but Penner’s bosses were supportive.

As Penner himself noted, when he revealed his plans to Times Associate Editor Randy Harvey, who was then the newspaper’s sports editor, Harvey “leaned back in his chair, looked through his office window to scan the newsroom and mused, ‘Well, no one can ever say we don’t have diversity on this staff.’”

After his vacation, Penner did indeed return as Christine Daniels, not only continuing to report on sports for the Times but also authoring a blog called “Woman in Transition,” detailing his experiences.

Making public the transition, he once said, was the hardest thing he had ever done.

“How do you go about sharing your most important truth, one you spent a lifetime trying to keep deeply buried, to a world that has grown familiar and comfortable with your facade?” he asked.

At the time of his announcement he was married, and he declined to discuss his family situation. He said he was undergoing female hormone treatments but declined to say whether he planned to undergo a sex-change operation.

However, he eventually dropped the “Woman in Transition” blog and returned to writing under the name Mike Penner.

At the time of his death he was writing a column for the Times called Totally Random that focused on offbeat, lighthearted and historic moments in sports. His last one appeared in the paper on Nov. 15.

Information on survivors and funeral arrangements was not immediately available.

== The April 26, 2007 L.A. Times column: “Old Mike, new Christine” (linked here).

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== An ABC News story in April, 2007, when Daniels made her debut (linked here)

== A story SI’s Rick Reilly did on Penner/Daniels in July, 2007 (linked here)

== A link to the Daily News’ “Out in Hollywood” blog by former reporter Greg Hernandez after hearing Daniels speak at a National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association convention in San Diego in 2007 (linked here).

== A Feb., 2009 story in USA Today about how Daniels’ transgender attempt didn’t last and he’d returned to Penner (linked here).

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