Sometimes, sports writing can kind of take a back seat to real life. So when I read about how LA Times sports writer Mike Penner was having a sex change and will become Christine Daniels, I was floored. Actually, my brother Danny called me on his way to work as I was writing a story on the Galaxy-Chivas USA game for MLSnet. I went online and found the story I linked above.
I had to read it more than once to really grasp it. I've known Mike mostly through his stories. I was first captivated by his writing when he covered France 98 for the LA Times. Along with Grahame Jones and Helene Elliot, Mike was part of the great coverage the Times had for the World Cup that year. I liked how he interjected some wit and how his stories flowed seamlessly through the end.
After the tournament, he wrote a story about why loved soccer. He said he was covering a Romania World Cup game at the Rose Bowl and was mesmerized by a goal George Hagi scored. I can't remember if that was against Colombia or Argentina, but it's a famous goal. Hagi swerved that shot in from about 35 yards out or so, and I remember Mike saying he was hooked on soccer after that.
Even though he has covered other sports, he's always been one of us, a soccer-loving media member so I always looked at him as an ally. I met him in Japan during the 2002 World Cup but only spoke briefly to him. I still follow his writing though it's been a while since we've crossed paths.
So I sat dumbstruck while I read the story. I had to laugh, though, when I came across this part:
When I told Robert, the soccer-loving lad from Wales who cuts my hair, why I wanted to start growing my hair out, he had to take a seat, blink hard a few times and ask, "Does this mean you don't like football anymore, Mike?"
No, I had to assure him, I still love soccer. I will continue to watch it. I hope to continue to coach it.
I think it's great that Mike came to a realization about himself and that he had the courage to stand up and deal with it. I don't know if I would have that same courage if I was faced with similar circumstances. As a sports writer - particularly a soccer writer - you need to have thick skin. You need to be able to deflect insults from readers and non-soccer sports writers, with non-soccer writers/editors making fun of soccer and bashing it every chance they get, with people who ask you what you do for a living and then ask 'Oh, is there a soccer team out here?'
But that pales in comparison with what Mike has had to deal with and what Christine will deal with from now on. I think it's courageous and I truly respect his ability to share with us his struggles.