The Miss America Organization suspended its CEO and Executive Chairman Sam Haskell on Friday following the publication of emails showing him and other staff mocking former pageant winners about their weight and sex lives.
Haskell’s suspension came after a story published Thursday by the Huffington Post that he and other officials shamed former contestants in emails using vulgar and sometimes lewd language.
Miss America's television partner, dick clark productions, severed its ties with the organization Thursday night, leaving the pageant with no broadcast.
“The Miss America Organization Board of Directors today voted to suspend Executive Chairman and CEO Sam Haskell," according to a statement. "Mr. Haskell, in support of the organization, has agreed to abide by the Board's decision. The Board will be conducting an in-depth investigation into alleged inappropriate communications and the nature in which they were obtained. In addition, the Board wishes to reaffirm our commitment to the education and empowerment of young women, supporting them in every way possible.”
Miss America Organization board member Tammy Haddad, who was mentioned in some of the emails, announced earlier Friday she has resigned from the board.
Meanwhile, former Miss America titleholders called for Haskell and the rest of the organization's board of directors to step down.
Forty-nine former pageant winners — including Miss America 1948 Bebe Shopp and Miss America 2017 Savvy Shields — signed an online petition calling for action.
“We are deeply disturbed and saddened to learn of the sickening and egregious words used by Miss America leadership in reference both to our group and to specific members of our sisterhood,” the former Miss Americas said in a joint statement. “The behavior of the Miss America Organization leadership, specifically Sam Haskell, Josh Randle, Tammy Haddad and Lynn Weidner, is despicable, as well as the behavior of those who sat by without objection while such derisive comments were passed around. We collectively call for their immediate resignation.”
Late Friday, Haskell released a statement addressing the controversy. He called the story in the Huffington Post "dishonest, deceptive and despicable."
“The material is based on private emails that were stolen three years ago by ex employees,” Haskell said. “This was not the CEO of an Organization laughing at inappropriate jokes and speaking about a former Miss America in email conversations. This was a father whose family was being attacked, and a man whose character was being assassinated daily, which impaired my judgment when responding to the inappropriate emails sent to me about them. For that, I deeply apologize.”
Haskell closed his statement saying his "mistake is a mistake of words." He said he will allow the Board of Directors and himself to evaluate the situation, and that he will abide by the decision to suspend him while an investigation takes place.
Mallory Hagan, Miss America 2013, was a particular target of Haskell in his emails. She is an evening co-anchor at NBC affiliate WLTZ in Columbus, Georgia.
Hagan said in a phone interview with The Press of Atlantic City she began hearing of Haskell's disparaging remarks about her after she began dating Brent Adams, a former assistant to Haskell and the director of development for the Miss America Organization, in 2015. Haskell reportedly wanted Adams to date his daughter.
But she said she had heard criticisms of other Miss Americas from her first day after winning the crown.
Hagan said she was told not to interact with former Miss America Kate Shindle, who had said some critical things about the pageant. Shindle, who grew up in Brigantine, released a book, “Becoming Miss America: Behind the Rhinestone Curtain” in 2014, detailing her experience with the nearly 100-year-old competition.
"Throughout my time it was, 'Don’t talk to this one, she’s crazy,' or 'She just can’t give it up.' I thought they were trying to protect me. It turned out (Haskell) was very much manipulating a narrative," Hagan said, trying to make her mistrust everyone but him.
Regina Hopper, who competed in the 1983 Miss America Pageant as Miss Arkansas, helped bring the issue of Haskell’s inappropriate emails and comments to light in August.
From 2010 to 2016, Hopper sat on the MAO board of directors as chairperson of the Miss America Foundation, which oversees the competition's scholarship program.
Hopper said she was asked to resign after disagreements with the governance of the scholarship program. However, after her resignation, she said many people surrounding the organization reached out to her.
"After I resigned from the board, there were a number a people who started calling me with complaints about Miss America and concerns — fearful about the organization and the direction in which it was going.” Hopper told The Press in a phone interview Friday. “I had met with someone who said to me that she was aware that an email existed where Sam Haskell was saying that it was ‘perfect’ to call Miss America the ‘c-word.' I was shocked by it and said this is way more serious that some organizational or governance issue.”
Hopper then reached out to Adams.
“I said, 'Brent, I need to ask you a question, does this email exist?' and he said yes it did. And from that point, I started learning about other emails,” Hopper said.
In August 2017, Hopper and Adams approached two members of the MAO board of directors who also worked for dick clark productions — Amy Thurlow and Mark Bracco — and presented them with the compiled emails.
“I knew (Thurlow) would be appalled by it, as I was. That’s why we went to DCP," Hopper said.
Hopper said dick clark productions thanked her and Adams for the information and said they would conduct an investigation into the allegations.
While it's unclear what will happen next, many Miss America supporters said they hope that with changes to the organization, the pageant and the scholarship program will continue.
"I hope that with new leadership and new management, those who currently believe in the Miss America program — Dick Clark, ABC networks, Atlantic City, every sponsor that's listed there — I hope that they will continue to want to support a relevant and new Miss America that they can be proud to have their name on," Hopper said.
Staff writer Michelle Brunetti-Post contributed to this report.