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CAROLYN SAPP: Playing for Real

Less than a week after Miss Hawaii Carolyn Sapp was crowned Miss America a year ago, a Honolulu newspaper revealed a secret from her recent past: She had been a victim of physical abuse.

Monday, just two days after she relinquished her crown to Miss America 1993, Sapp’s story will be told--and she’ll play herself--in NBC’s “Miss America: Behind the Crown.”

The drama chronicles Sapp’s violent relationship with Nuu Faaloa, a running back for the New York Jets. The two met in 1988 when Sapp, now 25, began entering beauty pageants for college scholarships. Sapp and Faaloa soon became engaged. But when he was cut by the Jets, Faaloa began to take his frustrations out on Sapp. His attacks became so violent, Saap sought police protection.

During her reign as Miss America, Sapp spoke across the country about the importance of education, and she plans to continue her education this fall at Hawaii Pacific University with the $35,000 Miss America college scholarship. A senior, she is majoring in political science and international relations and hopes to head Hawaii’s Office of International Relations.

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Sapp talked about “Miss America: Behind the Crown” with Times Staff Writer Susan King during a recent visit to Los Angeles.

Were you reluctant to have this painful part of your life depicted on the small screen?

Definitely. There was a part of me that said, “No. This is private. This is painful and this hurts.” But I also realized if I didn’t (do the movie, producers) were probably going to do it anyway and it might not be accurate.

Did you get a lot of response from abused women when your story broke?

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Definitely. That’s the main reason I did (the movie). Three days after I was named Miss American, the story broke. I am not sure (who broke it). It was really hard. It had hurt because it happened over two years ago. But what happened is the national hot lines called me up and said the abuse hot line (received) over 1,000 calls a day just on my personal story with women saying, “If Miss America can have this in her life and she can go on, I can be strong, too.” So if sharing my pain would help someone else, then it was worth it. That is when I said we have to share this story. It has to be told.

Were you always going to play yourself in the movie?

I was involved in the script back in October. I was very emotionally tied to it. It is realism-based TV. This is accurate. They kept asking me, “Who do you want to play you, Carolyn? Who would you like to see play you?”

I said, “Well, how about me? This is (about me) and those emotions are my emotions and maybe it would be good (for me) and it would be like a catharsis. More importantly, I could have control. I could say, “Yes, it happened this way” and “No, it didn’t happen this way.” I wanted this to be as accurate as possible. I didn’t want it to stretch and be sensationalized and I was afraid of that. I was scared it was going to be blown out of proportion.

Had you ever acted before?

No. This was a new experience for me. Not in a million years did I ever dream I would have this opportunity, and I had to earn it. I had to audition alongside these other actresses who were going to play me. I had to go into NBC and act and try to win my part. That was scary. Here I am me and I might not get to play me. I was excited when NBC said, “Yes.”

What does your ex-fiance feel about the movie?

He is 110% supportive behind this movie because he has changed and he sees how other people are going to change. This is our story; this is not just my story. It was very important to me that he agreed to this.

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Why did your fiancee become abusive?

He had a lot of pressure. He had bought a home for his family. He was very generous and very giving. (He had to deal with) a lot of bills and also the emotions of getting cut from what you love to do. Our own personal life was in trouble as far as communication. If you add all of those pressures together, you don’t know how to release it. I am glad to say that he has been in anger management and he has been in counseling and he is changing.

Did you get help?

Definitely. I have been in counseling and I also communicate very strongly with my parents. My foundation of my life is my family. I think if you have a strong foundation and someone to communicate with, you can handle anything in life.

That is the key to abusive situations. I think sometimes women are afraid to leave (abusive relationships) because maybe they have children and they have nowhere to go. They have to realize that they can be strong. You have to believe in yourself as a person and that you don’t deserve this. You can get out and there are places, shelters where people want to help you. I tell people you can’t do it alone, you have to be able to call out to someone to emotionally support you.

Was it cathartic for you to do the movie?

It was definitely an emotional roller coaster. It is hard to pull up those memories. You can forgive but you can’t forget. It was really hard.

“Miss America: Behind the Crown” airs Monday at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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