A long Daily Beast article about Rachel Uchitel raises an interesting question: was she just Tiger Woods's mistress, or more? And what does the answer say about the Tiger Woods scandal and the sex lives of professional athletes?
I feel a little dirty about it, but I kind of couldn't take my eyes off of Jacob Bernstein's Daily Beast profile of Uchitel. Partly this is because she had a pretty interesting life, punctuated by tragedy. Her dad died of coke addiction, and her fiance died on 9/11. Then she fought his parents over his money, saying, "Money doesn't necessarily compensate, but in this society that's what we use to compensate. What else is there unless they're going to give me some knight in shining armor?" Then she married another guy, divorced after four months, and over time became "a concierge, a consiglière who made sure VIPs were being taken care of over the course of the night." Bernstein's description of Uchitel at this point in her life reads like an especially sleazy detective novel:
By the time [club owner Jason Strauss] became involved with Uchitel (and gave her a job, first at his club Tao in Vegas, then in New York at Marquee), the club wasn't truly exclusive, though it was certainly expensive.
The same description could be used to describe Uchitel. As far as her looks went, Uchitel was no runway model, but she was sexy in the slightly overprocessed way that her job demanded, with a taste for Christian Louboutin heels and a body that was, at least of late, widely believed to be surgically enhanced. When Uchitel's relationship with Strauss busted up, she dusted herself off and moved on to other late-night locales, where she earned a reputation for being savvy and hardworking, albeit with sharp elbows and a bit too much drama.
She was the kind of dame you could have, for a price. But as the golfer later learned, that price was far too high. Cue saxophones. Seriously, though, Rachel Uchitel's story actually gets even more noirish than this. Bernstein cites our brother site Deadspin's claim that Uchitel was not just a mistress, but in fact a procurer of women for Woods. A.J. Daulerio (of cheetah fame) wrote that "Uchitel's main job was to provide women for Tiger during his globetrotting excursions to various tournaments, charity functions and fuck-and-run private-jet weekends with his Fortune 500 party pals that he seemed to enjoy so much." He also quotes an anonymous source who says, "Rachel Uchitel works for Tiger the minute he gets off the plane wherever he is: from dinner, to photos, to nightclubs, to drugs, to girls - whatever he wants," and "her agenda is to land big clients - not big boyfriends."
Bernstein, however, goes on to dispute this account. He writes,
[S]ubsequent reporting from both the National Enquirer (which initially broke the story of Woods' affair with Uchitel) and The Daily Beast indicate she was more mistress than madam. "I don't think she was doing anything illegal," says the nightclub source. Adds the publicist with ties to the nightlife world: "She's not a person I'd want to hang out with, but she's not low end or really sleazy. I think she's basically a girl looking for a rich husband." Says a third source: "If she introduced him to women, I doubt it went much further than that [i.e. bringing them over to his table to make an introduction]."
So is Rachel Uchitel just "a girl looking for a rich husband," a knight in AmEx armor? Or is she in fact a businesswoman whose job it is to provide powerful men with willing women (a practice that, it's worth noting, is not illegal if the women aren't explicitly paid)? The answer matters for a couple of reasons. First, if Uchitel is, as Daulerio claims, one of many procurers of her ilk, then an especially sordid side of sports culture could be exposed. Daulerio writes,
Athletes have utilized the VIP service to engage in their affairs (and meet possible mistresses) for the sake of (supposed) privacy, philandering without the hassle of having to do any work themselves to land these women. It's a dirty business all around. But what to do now, since Tiger has gone and messed it up for a bunch of people who were pretty safe from prying eyes and camera lenses whenever they stepped out on their wives and girlfriends during Vegas weekends?
It's no surprise that pro athletes and other powerful men have lots of secret sex. And really, it's also not a shock that there could be an entire cottage industry devoted to ferrying women back and forth from the table at a club to an athlete's hotel room, all while making sure everyone involved stays discreet. But if that discretion breaks down — as it has for many of Woods's mistresses but not yet for Uchitel — then sex for powerful men might become a little more like sex for normal people. They might have to actually work to hide it.
The nature of Uchitel's relationship with Woods also has implications for how we view her. Woods's other mistresses haven't come off particularly well in the wake of the whole car-crash-golf-club episode. They've generally been portrayed as interchangeable dumbasses — Daulerio's word is "bubbleheads" — who thought Tiger would love them forever and who are now clinging to his reflected fame (to be fair, the reflected-fame part may be true). If Uchitel's main role was to sleep with Woods, she'll be tarred with this brush. But if, in fact, she was orchestrating a highly organized system to satisfy Woods's appetites and keep those appetites a secret, and if she holds behind her still-zipped lips not only his secrets but the secrets of other men who have used this system, then she's a lot more threatening. And the whole media narrative of the Woods affair — one of stupid women gulled by an unscrupulous man — takes an interesting new turn. Cue saxophones.