Mike Penner was a talented writer and tormented soul who, sadly, was known more for the latter than the former when he apparently took his life this week at age 52.
Working for the Los Angeles Times the last 20-plus years, Northwest readers had few opportunities to see his work. If they knew him at all, it was probably because in 2007 he stunned the world of sports he covered by announcing – in a painful column – that he was a transexual.
For more than a year, he wrote for the Times as Christine Daniels, then late in 2008 returned to Mike Penner. On Friday, authorities say, he killed himself.
Knowing Mike and the world we both worked in, I fear sports – from the athletes to other writers – were not kind to him after 2007. If there is a more homophobic community that professional sports, I haven’t encountered it, and while Mike wasn’t gay, he was certainly suspect in clubhouses and press boxes.
As a writer, he had a beautiful touch for whatever he covered. Over the years, we shared occasional meals, at least a couple of cab rides and a few drinks after deadlines. I didn’t know him well but liked him. In 2007, I was as surprised as anyone about his personal decision.
We talked only once after that, about a player we had both covered years earlier. As always, Mike made me laugh. I wish more of us could have returned the favor.
The issues he struggled with were private, and that he kept them out of his work for so long – and away from those who worked alongside him – still leaves me sad.
Sportwwriting and journalism lost a good heart in his passing, an astute eye and a small smile. I saw that smile too few times. I will miss reading him.