LOS ANGELES – 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, 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.
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.
"Mike was one of the most talented writers I’ve ever worked with, capable of reporting on any number of topics with great wit and style. He was a very gentle man who will be greatly missed. This is a tragic ending and a difficult time for all of us who knew him," said Times Sports Editor Mike James.
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.
Penner is survived by his brother, John, a copy editor for the Times. Funeral plans were pending, and his ex-wife Lisa Dillman, also a sportswriter.
I used to read his column everyday and wondered where he went. Now I know. I have posted some of his columns on my space. No matter what your feelings about this, it took alot of guts for him to make it public in a major newspaper. Here is a rememberence by respected Times sports columnist Ross Newhan.
A few weeks after losing my friend, my family’s friend and my former sports-writing colleague Earl Gustkey, I am trying to cope this morning with the loss of my friend, my family’s friend and my former baseball-writing colleague and traveling companion Mike Penner.
I am not smart enough, and I don’t have the insight, to understand the torment that drove him to an apparent suicide. Instead, I will remember the fun we had on the Angels beat in the ’80s, and I will remember the talent that flowered on every assignment he was given.
Mike combined the best of the best: humor, wit, cynicism and objectivity. His reflective story on the historic Game 5 of the 1986 playoff between the Angels and Red Sox (the Donnie Moore/Dave Henderson game) was one of the best baseball stories I have read in nearly 50 years of covering baseball, and I included a large part of it, citing Mike’s authorship, in my 2000 book on the Angels.
I smile in remembering his wonderfully funny piece in trying to explain the compound semantics of former Angels general manager Mike Port (Mike coined it Port-uguese), and as Keith Thursby cites in his obituary and as Mark Whicker of the Register cites in a blog today, the examples of Mike’s wit and talent are endless. I can only hope he has found the peace that apparently eluded him in life. And I will find solace in the laughs we shared while wondering what in the world we were doing in hotel rooms in Cleveland and Detroit — as well as the the legacy he left.
— Ross Newhan
My morning sports page just isn’t the same now…