Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Degrees of separation: Title IX and Lorena Ochoa

Lorena Ochoa is hot, hot, hot right now just having won her fourth LPGA title in as many attempts.

But is she is product of Title IX? ESPN commentator Cindy Brunson believes so, or at least lead us to believe so when she compared Ochoa's post-Title IX accomplishments to Mickey Wright's record-setting four straight record that Ochoa tied this past weekend.

This anti liberal media* commentator finds the invocation of Title IX ridiculous in this situation because Title IX is about collegiate sports, he writes, and because Ochoa, like Wright, left college to turn professional after only two years of intercollegiate golf.

Hello, strange bedfellow.

Well I am not exactly on board with his argument. One could make a feasible argument that Ochoa benefited from the support, financial and otherwise, offered to women's golf even in just her two years of playing. Additionally he clearly does not consider how even a narrowly tailored piece of legislation can have a larger cultural impact. Might Lorena Ochoa be just as good an athlete if Title IX had never come about? Certainly. But would the coverage (even as limited as it is these days) of her successes been there without a culture--created, in part, by Title IX--that is gaining a certain amount of respect and interest in women's sport? Maybe not.

But I do have some issues with Title IX being invoked every time a female athlete does something great or record-setting. (I haven't seen any Title IX invocations post Danika Patrick's win this past weekend, thankfully.)

One, Title IX is a fairly nuanced piece of legislation--its legislative and judicial history is anyway. Such invocations erase that history and the present struggles.

Two, success in sports is more than just gender. What kind of class background does Ochoa come from? How has her race factored into her career? We love to talk about Tiger Woods's race and ethnicity but somehow when we talk about Ochoa all that gets mentioned in her gender.

These were not the arguments, of course, proffered by the conservative commentator.

*When ESPN became a bastion of "liberal media" I am not quite sure.