[OBITUARY] When I met Mike Penner in 1994 it was back when sports columnists from mainstream newspapers rarely wrote about soccer with respect and appreciation. Penner was part of the Los Angeles Times staff that, for a month during the glorious days of the USA-hosted World Cup, covered soccer to an extent that had never been seen before in a U.S. newspaper.
I didn't know Penner well, but I remember meeting him in the Rose Bowl press center, having conversations throughout the tournament, and sharing a few meals together. I liked that he asked for my opinions and I enjoyed sharing them with him, and I remember him being unnecessarily grateful.
The 1994 World Cup was a special time. It seemed like every American was a soccer fan that summer. The soccer-bashers of the mainstream press were replaced by writers like Penner, who played and loved the game. Penner acted like covering the World Cup was the greatest beat one could get.
I didn't keep in touch with Penner, but a few years back we exchanged e-mails. I don't recall the specifics, but I remember being very pleased that he still subscribed to Soccer America.
In 2007, I heard Penner doing a public radio interview shortly after he announced that he was transsexual. And of course I read his famous "coming-out" column: "Old Mike, New Christine."
Penner explained he would be writing under the byline "Christine Daniels," and in the column noted his passion for soccer:
"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.
"My days of playing in men's over-30 rec leagues, however, could be numbered.
"When I told Eric, who has played sweeper behind my plodding stopper for more than a decade, he brightly suggested, 'Well, you're still good for co-ed!'"
In October of 2008, he returned to using the Mike Penner byline.
On Nov. 27 of 2009, Penner, who also reported on the Olympics, the Angels, tennis and sports media for the Times, died at age 52.
The cause of death is suspected to be suicide, according to the LA Times' Web site.