Miss America CEO apologizes to Vanessa Williams: Is it enough?

Apologies can significantly reduce anger, and they can lead to increased communication.

Vanessa Williams - Promotional Images and Wallpaper - no copy write infringement intended
Vanessa Williams - Promotional Images and Wallpaper - no copy write infringement intended

Last week, Sam Haskell, the Miss America CEO, officially apologized to Vanessa Williams for the way the organization handled the “scandal” that resulted in Williams’ resigning as Miss America 1983.

Williams was the first black woman to win the pageant, but she resigned 10 months into her reign after news broke that she had posed nude well prior to becoming a contestant. The Miss America people pressured her to resign.

Haskell told her,

“I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less than the Miss America you are and the Miss America you will always be. You have lived your life in grace and dignity, and never was it more evident than during the events of 1984 when you resigned.”

A simple, sincere apology, given from the heart, given without reservation, and “owned” by the one apologizing, can be an amazingly curative act.

For Ms. Williams, notwithstanding that the apology came three decades later, it was enough to allow her to take on the role of a judge at this year’s pageant.

It raises the question, is it ever too late to apologize?

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Last July, during a ceremony in Los Angeles, James Murphy, a 94-year old former U.S. prisoner of war, received an apology from Mitsubishi Materials, who used him and other American POWs for forced labor during World War II.

A Mitsubishi executive told approximately 900 POWs that Mitsubishi felt “a deep sense of ethical responsibility for a past tragedy” for imposing “harsh, severe hardships.”

Murphy said he considered the apology “sincere, humble and revealing” and that the words “touched his heart.”

For Murphy, Mitsubishi’s apology was not too late, nor too little.

An apology has incredible power to bring healing and hope to those wanting it – regardless of the time that has passed since an offense, even 70 years for Murphy and the other POWs.

Murphy said the apology had all of the important elements – presented without qualification or self-promotion, admitting wrongdoing, making a sincere statement of showing deep remorse and assuring that such wrongs will never happen again.

This past May, Chad Morrisette of Los Angeles got a Facebook message apology from a man who had bullied him 20 years ago, when Morrisette was in his teens. The bully explained that he had been talking to his 10- year-old daughter about bullies, and what came to his mind was how

“shitty and mean I was to you when we were in Jr. High. I want to apologize. If we lived in the same state I would apologize to your face. I don’t even know if you remember, but I do and I am sorry.”

Morrisette said the message moved him to tears and he was happy to accept the apology.

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Some apologies are given because the wrongdoer effectively “had to.”

“Indeed I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong … I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that.”

Former President Bill Clinton acknowledged that this statement lacked the sincerity many Americans were looking for. His affair led to the second presidential impeachment in U.S. history.

“I have let my family down, and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect.”

Tiger Woods apologized, but didn’t admit that he was responsible for any wrong doing. His marriage ended, and his phenomenal golf game has never been the same.

Celebrity chef Paula Deen’s numerous “apologies” about using racial slurs in the past never seemed sincere, despite tears during a “Today” show interview when she was trying to explain she was not a racist.

Lance Armstrong apologized during an interview with Oprah about lying about using dope, for years on his way to multiple bicycle racing titles. He was, of course, stripped of his crowns.

President Nixon apologized, without apologizing, in his resignation speech, for Watergate.

Jim Bakker, worldwide televangelist star, fumbled and hemmed and hawed and did everything except apologize after his affair with a former secretary was uncovered.

Don Imus apologized several times for his racist remark about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Impressions of his soul were not changed.

Some apologies should be given early on. In the case of many doctors who negligently kill people, they are not “allowed” to apologize. Apologies for medical mistakes are appropriate but do not get made because doctors are prohibited by their insurance companies from doing so.

Preventable medical errors are, and remain, the No. 3 cause of death in the United States.

Only heart disease and cancer kill more people than the 400,000 people who die each year (more than a thousand per day) due to medical mistakes.

Insurance companies forbid their insured doctors to tell their victims “I’m sorry” because the apology could be used as an admission in court and could mean the insurance company would have to make payments.

Doctors often remain silent, even though medical ethics require disclosure. Aside from the legal reason, often they don’t apologize for emotional reasons. Apologizing in a medical sense is seen as admitting incompetence.

Informed legislators in several states, however, in response to the legal issue, have passed “apology laws” in their states preventing such apologies from being used in litigation and thus clearing the way for doctors to say “I’m sorry.”

Studies have shown that in many cases where a doctor apologizes, the victim or the family of the victim feels satisfied, and lawsuits are either not filed or dropped.

Victims are legitimately angry, both because the mistake happened and because time passes with no apology.  Anger further heightens as time passes and there is no explanation given. Heightened anger is responsible for much medical malpractice litigation.

Apologies can significantly reduce anger, and they can lead to increased communication.  The apology and the information then often result in reducing a victim’s motivation to sue.

A Michigan medical malpractice attorney said,

“We never sue the nice, contrite doctors. Their patients never call our offices. But the doctors who are poor communicators and abandon their patients get sued all the time. Their patients come to our offices looking for answers.”

Hillary Clinton may be elected president. She should never be a doctor.

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Her apology regarding her email system still has not shown understanding or remorse.

“As I look back at it now, even though it was allowed, I should have used two accounts. That was a mistake. I’m sorry about that. I take responsibility.”

She told an NBC interviewer that she is sorry the issue is confusing people while she maintained she had done nothing wrong.

Which is a non-apology.

Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website

His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, from his website: http://www.samakowlaw.com/book.

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Paul Samakow
Attorney Paul Samakow brings his legal expertise and analysis from the trenches of the courtroom to Communities Digital News. A native Washingtonian, Samakow has been a Plaintiff’s trial lawyer since 1980 practicing in the DC metro area. Paul can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email @ [email protected], or through his website @ http://www.samakowlaw.com/. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics.