Pro athlete-turned-entertainer Terry Crews has been through a lot in his life, from growing up in a dysfunctional and abusive home in Flint, Michigan, to an obsession with pornography that almost cost him his marriage to coming out about being sexually assaulted during the height of the #MeToo movement.
In a soul-baring talk as the keynote speaker for the HYPE Career Ready® Program Tuesday, Crews shared his path of sinking to near despair and ultimate personal triumph and success in Hollywood. Today, Crews has surrounded himself with creative projects from movies and TV shows, to books, to art. He’s happy and healthy and he wants everyone to understand their personal worth – as he now does.
Victim of sexual assault
In 2016, when the #MeToo movement was gaining steam, Crews had an intimate understanding of the women criticized for waiting to come forward with sexual assault allegations. “This is crazy,” he said. “I knew none of it (the criticism) was true. That’s why I came out. I know why (they waited) because I didn’t say anything either.”
Crews was victimized at a party by the head of one of the largest talent agencies in LA. He recalls feeling trapped and as a result, keeping quiet. After broken promises by the agency to handle the situation, Crews finally took legal action, but what got people’s attention were the 16 tweets he posted about what had happened to him at that party.
“They didn’t count on the power of my voice,” Crews said. What followed was a world tour of top TV programs, where Crews spoke openly about what had happened to him. His message is unequivocal: “You are worth it.”
“Every man and woman who has had bad things happen to them … you are a full-fledged human being, and I will make you recognize that. No one should ever make you feel less than because you are a woman, poor, black or whatever the dynamic is.”
The agent eventually resigned.
Growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother addicted to religion, Crews was made to feel his family situation was his fault. “In the middle of all this drama, I picked up a lot of bad habits,” he admitted.
He broke free when he walked on to Western Michigan University’s football team, eventually earning a scholarship. “I was an artist but I knew sports was going to be my way out,” Crews said. “The thing is, sports is awesome – until it’s not.”
Drafted into the NFL by the Rams, Crews played with four pro teams. In the NFL, the competitive mindset overwhelmed Crews. After seven years, he walked away from football and right into Hollywood. “When I retired, let me tell you, I had an attitude,” he said. His family eventually went broke, his unaddressed anger issues grew and his pornography got out of control.
“I had issues,” he said. “That toxic masculinity thing is contagious.” When he wouldn’t come clean to his wife, she left. He was forced to pawn his belongings. “This is where I was in my life … blaming others for everything.”
Jobless for a year, Crews had a wake-up call when a friend and former teammate refused to loan him any more money. He got a dose of humility when he found himself sweeping a factory floor for $8 an hour – but it was a job. He asked himself, “How did you get this low? You were a star and now, look at you!”
At that point, he decided to change his circumstances, becoming vulnerable as only he could. “That was the moment everything changed for me. I was no longer a victim,” Crews said.
Creativity trumps competition
The prevailing attitude in our country is that competition is good. Crews has a different idea. “There’s a better way,” he maintained. “The opposite way is creativity.”
He decided to channel his creativity into comedy, where he felt a sense of freedom and his Hollywood resumé took off. He experienced great success in movies such as White Chicks, Get Smart and The Expendables. He hit it big on TV, too, with roles in Everybody Hates Chris and other popular series and commercials.
An attitude of optimism
When his wife left in 2010, Crews hit rock bottom. He decided it was time to get better. He entered therapy to “break through the stereotypes” and understand himself. It worked.
“I am one of the fortunate ones. My wife did come back when she was I was serious about changing,” he said.
Today, Crews is in a good place with a busy Hollywood career. “I’ve got more stuff goin’ on than ever,” said the soon-to-be host of America’s Got Talent who’s also a regular on the highly popular comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
“If you do the right thing and show you are creative, you’re in.”
Closing with a “very controversial” attitude that the world is slowly improving, Crews told the students, “You are the world changers. Don’t let anyone treat you like you aren’t. You can take advantage of this. It’s never too late.”
Learn more about the HYPE Career Ready® Program.