Terry Crews has a lot to be happy about these days, with his Fox television series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" getting saved from cancellation by a last-second NBC pickup, and his role in the upcoming "Deadpool 2." And yet, the prolific actor was moved to tears Tuesday thinking about how his own self-described "toxic masculinity" nearly destroyed his life on "Today."
More than just an actor, Crews was honored as one of Time's Persons of the Year, "The Silence Breakers," for speaking out with his own #MeToo story as that movement was first picking up steam. But as he revealed to Megyn Kelly on Tuesday morning, that's not something he would have been able to do even a few short years ago.
"In a lot of ways, masculinity can be a cult," he said. "It's about a cult, and when you're in a cult, if you do anything outside of what the cult wants you to do, you're ostracized." Crews experienced that for himself after he came forward with allegations of having been groped by an industry executive. Many men told him he should have just knocked the guy out, unable to fathom that a big, strong man like Crews could be victimized. He found himself with far less support than the women coming forward at the same time.
That mentality is part of the problem with "toxic masculinity," as Crews sees it. And it's a culture he knows a lot about because he lived most of his life within it. "I was guilty. I was a card-carrying member of this toxic masculine world through football, through my culture," he admitted. "I grew up in Flint, Michigan. There was a pimp culture there. I was guilty of believing that I was more valuable than all the women in my life simply because I was a man."
But that's only the beginning of the problem with toxic masculinity. "Now, all your decisions, all your life, start to reflect your beliefs," he said, and that's where he got into trouble. "Sooner or later I'm telling my wife it's my way or the highway. It's all about controlling people. It's all about manipulation, defeating, being the man."
And so his wife smartly threw him out of the house. Crews teared up as he recalled her telling him, "I love you. But you go this path, I can't go with you."
This proved to be the wakeup call he needed, though it took him a while to fully hear it. Crews described a little voice telling him, "Maybe it's you." He urged people to listen to that voice as he finally did.
Part of the journey for Crews was acknowledging that you can be victimized, but you don't have to be a victim. "Do not accept any shame that's put on you because it's not yours. Put it out there," he said. And that's what he did when he was allegedly groped by Adam Venit, an executive at his own agency, William Morris.
According to Crews, he immediately reported the alleged assault to his own agent, but the agency later claimed he had failed to inform anyone in management. Crews wondered why telling his own agent at that agency wasn't enough.
"This is the deal. Predators want to shame you," he said. "It's like slave masters. Slave masters beat you not to punish you. They beat you to shame you. And the shame keeps you on the plantation. [They] Totally gaslight you; you're thinking crazy, you don't know what's going on."
He established that premise to explain that this is what he thinks his own agency was doing to him. "This is what William Morris told me," he went on. "They told me, 'You weren't hurt. Nobody hurt you.' This is my agency. They said, 'You did this to get famous.' I'm like, 'I'm already famous! What are you talking about?' That right there lets you know it's a lie. And once they start the lying they have to cover it with another lie and then another lie."
While his first instinct was to hit his assaulter, Crews said he was too aware of the optics of that as a large black man in America. And when he went to file charges, he found out he'd made the right call. "Once the DA got a hold of it, they said it wasn't a felony because it wasn't skin on skin," Crews explained. "I said, 'Wait a minute, skin on skin?' So you can grab somebody through their clothes and it's a misdemeanor!"
After prosecutors declined the felony filing, they told Crews they would not be filing criminal charges because the Feb. 2016 incident was outside the statute of limitations for a misdemeanor. Crews has filed a civil suit against Venit, accusing him of sexual assault. Venit continues to deny the allegations.
Crews went on to tell Kelly, "If I'd have hit him back, it's a felony."