By Shirley Hawkins
EXPOSITION PARK — From professional football player to a star on the hit television sitcom “Brooklyn Nine Nine,” actor Terry Crews has enjoyed a life of celebrity and privilege.
But Crews, who was the guest speaker Nov. 14 at the California African American Museum where he delivered a talk on “Radical Self-Care Now!” revealed that his life hasn’t always been idyllic.
He talked about seeing his father knock out his mother, an addiction to pornography that almost cost him his marriage and about being groped at a Hollywood party in 2016.
Crews, originally from Flint, Michigan, said he grew up in an abusive household.
“My father was a raging alcoholic,” Crews said. “I remember my father hitting my mother as hard as he could, which knocked my mother out. I was 7 years old at the time.
“I thought it was a movie — this couldn’t be real. Dad said he loved my mother but he had just knocked her out. I said, ‘What’s he going to do to me?’ I realized that I was going to have to get bigger and stronger in order to protect my mother.”
As the years went by, Crews’ home situation got worse.
“One time there was glass breaking and my mother stabbed my father and I realized that this was not the Brady Bunch,” he said.
Crews said his father continued to beat his mother.
“I was 14 years old,” he continued. “I begged my mother to go to a shelter, but she just shook her head ‘No.’
“There was nothing I could do to please my dad,” Crews said. “He said, ‘Go change the oil in the car.’ I put the oil in the carburetor. He really got angry at me.
“‘Don’t you know how to change the oil?’ he yelled.
“But you never showed me how to do it!” I cried. “If you don’t tell a child how to do tasks, how is he going to know and understand it?”
While visiting his uncle one day, Crews said that he took a trip down in to the basement and found a “little piece of heaven.” He accidentally opened a trunk and discovered stacks of pornography magazines.
Crews revealed that that was the beginning of decades of obsession.
“When I looked at pornography, all of my pain went away,” Crews said. “Porn would numb and relax me. This obsession became a huge problem.”
When he became a college student, Crews found love — he married his college sweetheart. All in life seemed well.
He was drafted by the NFL and played for seven years before venturing out to Hollywood to become an actor.
“I spent the next 20 years in Hollywood which is one of the most competitive places you can survive in — both mentally and physically,” he said.
Then one day his wife packed up and walked out the door.
“The first time I realized I needed radical self-care was the day my wife left me,” Crews said. “I thought I had everything figured out. I was making tons of money and I was a successful man in America. I had never gone to jail. And all of a sudden, my wife was gone. That day was a very dark day.”
Crews’ pornography addiction had finally caught up with him.
“If day turns into night and you’re still watching porn, you have a problem,” he said. “I realized that I needed help. One day, I just broke.
“I confessed to my wife, Rebecca, that I had gone to a massage parlor and cheated on her. The news shocked her and made her walk out on me. I realized that I hadn’t figured it all out after all and that I didn’t know what I was doing. I thought that was the end of my marriage.”
Crews realized that getting help for his porn addiction was an act of self-care that needed to be discussed.
“I went on Facebook Live to talk about it,” he said. “If we don’t talk about it, our problems will never get fixed.” He also talked about his porn addiction in his autobiography, ‘Manhood: How to Be a Better Man or Just Live with One.’
Crews went to rehab and was able to kick his addiction.
“Luckily, I was able to woo my wife back home,” he said.
Little did Crews know that he would emerge as an advocate for sexual abuse victims.
“In February 2016, my wife and I went to this party,” Crews said. “This white man, Adam Venit, head of the William Morris Endeavor motion picture department, strolled by me and he was licking his tongue out at me. I did not know this man. He comes over to me with his tongue still hanging out and then he grabs my genitals. I said, ‘Is this a joke?’ I pushed him back, and he’s giggling and laughing and he comes back to me again. Now I’m mad.”
Crews said it took every ounce of self-control not to beat Venit up. “I’m a big, black man in Hollywood. I knew that if I beat him up, I would be ostracized or jailed.”
Crews said that Venit called him the next day. He said, “I’m sorry, I was drunk.” Despite the apology, Crews filed a police report.
Venit was eventually suspended from his job for a month and then demoted.
For months, Crews kept the sexual assault secret. But when Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax Pictures, was exposed for sexually abusing women, Crews said he experienced post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’m so proud of the women who have come forward to report sexual abuse during the #MeToo movement,” he said. “This level of disrespect against women has gone too far for far too long in this community. When you see women being disrespected anywhere, say, ‘Hey, man, we don’t do that.’ Then all of a sudden, it’s like a rush of realization.
“If someone touches you and you don’t want to be touched, tell somebody,” Crews said. “I knew that I had to tell my story so that other people could be free. They thought I wasn’t going to talk about the assault, but they were dead wrong. I wasn’t going to just go away quietly.”
Crews embarked on a media blitz campaign to expose the assault, appearing on “Good Morning America” “Megyn Kelly” and “Dr. Phil.”
He realized that most men tended to “keep it quiet” if they had been sexually abused. After publicizing the sexual harassment, Crews said he was flooded with responses from men who confessed that they also had been victims of sexual abuse.
Crews even flew to Washington, D.C., to testify on Capitol Hill to support the sexual assault survivor’s bill or rights, urging Congress to pass the bill in all 50 states.
For his bravery in exposing sexual assault, Crews was named one of the “Silence Breakers” from the Time Person of the Year Award in 2017.
He filed a lawsuit against Venit and WME, but the city attorney’s office determined that the statute of limitations to prosecute Venit had expired.
Crews said that he will continue on his mission to be an advocate for sexual abuse victims.
“Change does not happen unless changing the culture happens,” he said.