Monthly Archives: December 2009

Mike Penner, in Memoriam

I want to note the passing of Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner who died of an apparent suicide last week.

In April 2007 Penner publicly announced that he was transitioning from male to female and changing his byline to Christine Daniels. In October of 2008 he quietly changed his byline back to Mike Penner and resumed his male identity.

Penner didn’t discuss his transition back to male so we don’t know whether his level of happiness was unaffected by transitioning to female or whether the transition proved to be too difficult. But I do want to make one point that came to mind when he first announced his transition to female.

Our fast changing society has come far in allowing people to transition from male to female and vice versa – children in grade school are now recognized for crossing gender lines and are treated respectfully by their parents – but we haven’t made much progress in unraveling the duality of gender.

The recent case of Caster Semenya is indicative of the problem. Semenya won a 2009 World Championship in the 800 meters for South Africa but questions about her gender have turned her life upside down. Is she female or not? The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) made her undergo gender tests even though officials of the organization admit that there is no ultimate gender test. There is no clear delineation between male and female.

In the case of Mike Penner, he had one choice if he wanted to transition – from male to female. He could hardly have gone to his boss at the Los Angeles Times and said, “You know what, I don’t feel like a guy so I’m gonna noodle around in the gender spectrum to see exactly where I fit and get back to you in a few months.” At least not if he wanted to keep his job.

Our culture doesn’t allow anything in between male and female except for a few bearded women I know of and they surely don’t write for big city newspapers. I don’t know the source of Mike Penner’s unhappiness but I do wish we could unshackle people from the male/female polarity and allow them to wander around in the gender spectrum till they find their place.

Maybe Mike Penner would still be around if he’d had that opportunity.

For Tiger Woods Privacy Is Not the Issue

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It’s the tennis offseason and though there is tennis news today – notably, Amelie Mauresmo has retired – I’m going off into the world of golf to address the issue of privacy and Tiger Woods’s current predicament. After all, if Tiger’s good friend Roger Federer were caught in a similar muddle, I’m sure he’d be screaming for privacy too.

Here’s the story. Tiger drove his car into a fire hydrant and a neighbor’s tree last Friday night and his wife Elin smashed in the back window of his SUV with a golf club. Tiger’s initial statement made it look like Elin was trying to rescue him by breaking the window but it’s more likely that they were arguing about rumors of an affair between Tiger and a woman named Rachel Uchitel.

In the days after the accident, evidence of two more affairs arose which led Tiger to release a statement on his website admitting to transgressions. While he was at it he made it clear that being a high profile athlete doesn’t mean losing privacy:

…no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. …Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.

To which I have to ask, where has Tiger been hiding for the past few decades?

Was he chained to the driving range whenBill Clinton went to disastrous lengths to deny having had sex with Monica Lewinsky? Did he forget that Lewinsky saved the semen-stained blue dress she was wearing when she had sex with Clinton?

Did he think his text messages and voicemails would vanish into thin air after he sent them to Jaimee Grubbs, a Los Angeles cocktail waitress who told US Magazine she had a 31 month affair with Tiger?

Was his television broken when baseball player Roger Clemens vehemently denied steroid use only to have his former trainer turn up with steroid tainted syringes with Clemens’ DNA on them? Did he not take note when Clemens’ running buddy Andy Pettite avoided similar grief by admitting to using human growth hormone?

Did he contract amnesia when his close friend Michael Jordan was sued by a former mistress for $5 million?

What does privacy mean in the era of text messages, cellphone cameras and youtube? Not much really. As for public confessions, if you have an extra-marital affair and you don’t confess, the object of your affections will.

The issue is not privacy; the issue is intelligently adjusting to the flow of cultural and technological change. If you get caught in an indiscretion, you have to know two things: 1. Evidence of your indiscretion exists and someone will take advantage of the notoriety that comes with reporting it. 2. The best strategy is full disclosure.

When someone tried to extort money from David Letterman by threatening to disclose his affairs with female employees on his staff, Letterman went on his show and admitted to the affairs. The only thing I’ve heard about lately is a joking reference to a “David Letterman Fidelity Retreat” on a radio commercial.

One last note. Younger high profile athletes should pay very close attention because how many of these athletes don’t end up having extramarital affairs? Whatever the number is, I guarantee you it’s very low.