Yesterday afternoon, a story broke that took a while to catch fire but when it did it spread like a prairie wildfire. Suzy Favor-Hamilton, one of the most celebrated women athletes in US Track & Field history, participant in multiple Olympics, motivational speaker had been working for at least the past year as an escort. The story broke via the scumbag site Smoking Gun and then was rehashed in national outlets everywhere.
Of course, on the surface, this is shocking news. As a former track athlete, I have fond memories of Ms. Hamilton (then just Favor as she was not married) particularly her career at Wisconsin where she became the most decorated female athlete in NCAA history. She was a distance runner as I was and was widely considered to take the mantle as America’s distance running sweetheart vacated by Mary Decker. Her college career burst with promise but unfortunately the wins never materialized on an international level to the same extent. She had a good career, participating in multiple Olympics, most recently in Sydney in 2000 but never brought home a medal. In fact, in Sydney she appeared to have her best opportunity but collapsed on the track in the home stretch and then later cited performance anxiety as to the reason for this all too familiar defeat on the biggest stage. To be honest, that is probably the last time I thought about Ms. Favor as she faded into the backdrop to do whatever it is that former Olympians do. Then this story broke and there she was again America’s distance running “sweetheart” cast in a far different role as moderately expensive escort. What I was struck by when reading the story was Ms. Hamilton’s honesty in discussing her career as an escort. According to the story, her husband was aware of her activities, though not in favor of them (no pun intended) couldn’t get her to stop.
She says “Favor Hamilton described the escort business as “exciting,” an illicit midlife diversion from her routine existence, one in which she operates a successful Madison, Wisconsin real estate brokerage with her husband, delivers motivational speeches, and does promotional work for various businesses and groups, including Disney’s running series and Wisconsin’s Potato & Vegetable Growers Association.”
I was blown away, not by the escorting details, but by the honesty. Here was a successful woman, admitting that there were elements of her routine, marriage and otherwise that were not fulfilling. She found some release through sex, but most interestingly illicit sex with strangers. Perhaps now there was an opportunity to discuss the reality that many people find conventional sexual relationships, whether within the construct of marriage or not, to leave them wanting and unfulfilled. Perhaps, Ms. Hamilton was one of those people, perhaps her husband was content in the role as a cuckold, perhaps this was a choice she/they made to satisfy their particular sexual urges and desires. Her choice of sideline profession might appear extreme but the reality is that there is an underbelly of seemingly “extreme” sexual choices that are not discussed at the average Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association meeting. As if sensing her original honesty in the Smoking Gun article might add more fuel to the fire Ms. Hamilton took to twitter to tell us why “I was drawn to escorting in large part because it provided many coping mechanisms for me when I was going through a very challenging time with my marriage and my life”..and the coup de grace “I have been seeking the help of a psychologist for the past few weeks and will continue to do so after I have put things together.” The catch all excuse of sinners and saints everywhere, counseling! The same counseling for Tiger Woods, David Duchovny and others who stray off the “conventional sex train” and get caught. By choosing at the most inopportune time the most conventional escape/excuse route possible a great opportunity was lost to examine why Ms. Hamilton made the choices that she did. I am playing armchair psychologist, but there is a high likelihood, her reasoning was far less complex than we might care to admit. Ms. Hamilton might have just like to fuck and be paid to do it. She originally stated her life as an escort was “exciting” perhaps that’s the only relevant reason she decided to be an escort. In short, she made a choice, a highly risky one but it was hers to make. Now due to a client who undoubtly outed her Ms. Hamilton must face harsh public scrutiny and will likely be unable to resume a normal life for quite some time. Of course, the many clients who paid to have sex with Ms. Hamilton, many with families of their own, will continue to go on in anonymity. There is an interesting double standard. These men can pay for sex, out someone working in the sex trade and walk away unscathed. That is tacitly unfair, and those who will say, “she got what she deserved” miss the point. In her own admission, Ms. Hamilton and her husband (whether he liked it or not) entered into the world of escorting for reasons that shall truly remain known only to them. Her exposure was not part of the deal, though she probably should have factored it into her decision making process. The main message here is that not everyone who is looking for an unconventional sexual relationship is depressed, or a criminal. Many of them are everyday people, with everyday jobs and everyday issues. Unfortunately, Ms. Hamilton becomes the lightening rod and at a moment when her honesty could have shed some light we’re left fumbling around in the dark with the same sexual clichés.