Sunday, July 8, 2007

Cleaning Out The Notebook: Sports Stories I Never Told You

DATELINE: Los Angeles.

Long-time Los Angeles Times sports reporter Mike Penner had a problem. It's a problem many writers experience on a regular basis.

Writer's block.

"I was always a tortured soul when I wrote," the sports columnist said.

Years on the job had taken their toll. Deadlines. Distractions. Decisions. Something bigger than what Penner saw in the mirror each day was at work within him, making his chosen profession a chore, a burden. An insurmountable wall, higher, wider and deeper than he knew how to deal with. And all the while, that nagging, dragging writer's block. The bane of a journalist's existence.

So what did Mike Penner do to break through? To overcome that rock solid barrier that threatened to ruin his career?

He underwent gender reassignment.

Yep. Beneath it all, Mike Penner came to the conclusion that his writer's block was due to the fact that... he was a woman.

On April 26th, Mike Penner wrote his first column for the Times as Christine Daniels.

"I am a transsexual sportswriter," Penner/Daniels wrote.

And that pesky writer's block?

"All I can say at this point is that I am now happier, more focused and more energized when I sit behind a keyboard. The wicked writer's block that used to reach up ant torture me at some of the worst possible times imaginable has disappeared... That should come as good news to my editors: far fewer blown deadlines.",0,2709943.story?page=la-home-headlines.

When the story first broke, this reporter attempted to contact fellow Times sportswriter Lisa Dillman, who also happened to be Mike Penner's wife. In interviews with Penner/Daniels, no mention was ever made of Lisa Dillman or her thoughts on her husband's transition. To date, I have received no response from Dillman.

Too bad. Every good story should allow both sides as close to equal time as possible. It was reported at the time of the story that one prerequisite of any interview with Penner/Daniels was that no mention of Lisa Dillman would be made.

It would have been nice to allow both sides of an interesting story to be represented. Unfortunately, it appears that wasn't meant to be.

Well, at least that pesky writer's block has been taken care of.

DATELINE: Fort Collins, Colorado.

April 21st. The final day of spring practice for the Colorado State University Rams dawned crisp and clear. Today was the day of the Rams' Green-White intrasquad scrimmage, where all CSU fans would have an opportunity to take part in the "Spring Youth Football Festival", where supporters would even be allowed to be on the sidelines inside the Rams' stadium to view the proceedings close up.

Colorado State football fan Mike Thomas and his sons were in attendance that day, roaming the sidelines just like they belonged there.

One problem. Mike's youngest son Caden was there with the other men in the family, enjoying the day, paying only as much attention as any four-year-old is able to. With all the intensity of a late-season game, the scrimmage played out on the field. And with it the competition spilled over onto the existence of little Caden as he wandered unsupervised on the sideline.


Colorado State running back George Hill, after catching a sideline pass, ran helmet-first into the small boy, driving him backwards into the thinly-padded brick wall at the rim of the playing surface.

Following an ambulance ride to a near-by hospital, thirty stitches plus a little plastic surgery by a local doctor, and a full neurological exam, Caden was declared sound and released.

Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick gave the kid an autographed football. Mike Thomas said later that Caden would have, "a scar to rival Harry Potter."

No one as of yet has given Mike Thomas a full neurological exam to determine if he's sick in the head or just an unfit parent for bringing a child that small within 20 feet of a hand-to-hand combat zone, then leaving him unsupervised long enough to get drilled by a 200-pound, padded missile.

Of course, Mike Thomas was close enough to his son to give this eyewitness account of the incident:

"Well, there's the sickening thud. I was tremendously worried about the rest of his life. You make automatic assumptions there will be some damage when you see something that horrific."

Ya think?

Caden summed up the moment like this: "It was kind of scary cause I got bonked by the football. It kind of hurted."

And finally...

DATELINE: Fayetteville, Georgia.

June 25th became a day that will live forever in the hearts and minds of professional wrestling fans across the United States. But not for the sad, sentimental reasons that fans of the scripted, pseudo-reality sports franchise known as the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) might wish to believe. That afternoon, Fayette County Sheriffs found the bodies of wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their 7-year-old son Daniel, all victims of a murder-suicide in which Benoit strangled his wife, suffocated his developmentally disabled son, and then hanged himself.

In 2003, Nancy Benoit filed for divorce and a restraining order against her husband, later changing her mind and reconciling with him.

In a press conference held the next day, Fayette County D.A. Scott Ballard described what Sheriffs' investigators believe took place in the Benoit home over the weekend just past.

Some time on Friday, June 22nd, Chris Benoit bound the hands and feet of his wife Nancy, then strangled her with a cord. Then following day, Saturday, the 240 pound Benoit then, according to investigators, put his son in a single-arm choke hold and strangled him. Finally, on Sunday, the 24th, Benoit killed himself by wrapping a cord around his own neck that was attached to a weight machine in his home gym. Benoit released a stack of weights that matched his own body weight, causing his own strangulation.

Deputies found Bibles placed next to each of the murdered family members.

Bad enough that the Benoit family is dead. Worse still are the details that surround those deaths. Details that, at first glance, seem questionable. Details that, upon further review, move right past questionable, and straight into heinous.

Hours before Sheriffs found the bodies in the Benoit home, a Wikipedia article on Benoit was updated to include news of his missing a match, scheduled at the time of the first murder, telling readers that Benoit was replaced by another wrestler. Then, on Monday, June 25th, at 12:01 a.m. EDT, an additional phrase was added to the post.

"...stemming from the death of his wife Nancy."

This update was made 14 hours, 29 minutes before investigators found the bodies. In addition to that, the IP address of the editor of the entry was traced to the town of Stamford, Connecticut, the location of the headquarter of the WWE. Since that time, police have taken computer equipment belonging to the person responsible for the posts. Police say that this "anonymous editor" could face possible criminal charges if they had any knowledge of the deaths prior to the discovery of the victims.

Oh, and one other thing.

Speculation regarding the part that anabolic steroids may have played in the emotional story of Chris Benoit led officials to investigate, and subsequently arrest, a doctor for regularly prescribing Benoit the equivalent of a 10-month supply of steroids every three to four weeks.,1,3341276.story?coll=la-headlines-sports&track+crosspromo (news video is included with this link).

All that, while Benoit continued to pass "mandatory" drug testing performed regularly under the WWE's wellness program, set up to monitor wrestlers for drug use and other health concerns.

So, my sports notebook is empty. And, cathartic as this was supposed to be for me, I think I'm going to need a little more detox from this one. I"m headed to the beach for an interview an AVP beach volleyball player. I'm reasonable sure she has never: a) been a man; b)left her child alone on the sidelines at a sporting event, or c)done steroids. It might just end up being a regular sports story.

I miss those.

Copyright © 2007 Bill Friday