OREM — Terry Crews may be known for his large, lovable and comedic roles on screen, but his remarks to Utah Valley University students Thursday addressed serious concerns: toxic masculinity and rape culture within the sports community.
The former NFL player's comments came one day after the high-profile sentencing of an ex-college football player and NFL hopeful from another Utah campus, Torrey Green, who was convicted of sexually assaulting six women while a student at Utah State University.
"I was guilty as a college student, as a football player — even in Hollywood. There were things that I saw I never said anything about, I never called anyone on it," Crews said at a news conference before his speech to UVU students. "As a man I saw other men doing things that I did not approve of and I just went 'Well, what can I do?' And then you realize that thing keeps going and it grows and it turns into an epidemic because you learn, through silence, to let these things happen — and what happens is you are complicit."
"I've seen where women were kicked off college campuses because she was going to accuse the star football player of rape, I've seen that. And they've got a game on Saturday," he continued. "This is stuff that I can talk about because I've seen it. And you go 'Whoa, this is wrong.'"
Crews talked about imagining how that girl's parents feel to see their daughter kicked out of her dream school "because this guy's got a football game."
"It's time we call each other on these things, it's time we say, 'Hey man, what's more important?' I love football, I love sports, but I love people more," he said. "That's what we have to do. What's happened is we've taken these things and put them in exchange for human beings and that's just never going to be acceptable and the #MeToo movement is all about that."
He spoke Thursday as part of the university's "Week of Dreams," which celebrated UVU's newly inaugurated president Astrid S. Tuminez and the opening of the Noorda Center for the Performing Arts. "Seinfeld" star Jason Alexander performed at the Noorda Center Monday.
Crews — who played in the NFL for six years and starred in sitcoms including "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and "Everybody Hates Chris" — was originally slated to speak at the new arts center, but due to high demand the event was moved to the larger UCCU Center. It was estimated at least 1,300 people came to hear him speak.
Tuminez, who introduced Crews, said she spent time with him before his speech and learned three things from the well-known actor: he’s a big dreamer, he’s not a know-it-all but rather a learn-it-all, and he's a man of "great integrity" who inspired her.
During his speech, Crews spoke about the recent college admissions scandal and his experience as a student at Eastern Michigan University.
“I remember feeling shamed to be in a diversity program,“ he said.
He walked around campus and felt judged by students who felt he didn't earn his place — with the recent scandal in mind, he said this was now ironic considering no one knows what their parents did to get them there.
“Nothing hurt my heart more than when that scandal hit and the shame I felt walking that campus feeling I was taking a handout and feeling like I was given something I didn’t deserve,” he told the audience.
The "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" star received not one, but three standing ovations throughout the course of his speech.
"He has a very captivating way of speaking to an audience," said Demmi Nava-Zapien, a 21-year-old, first-year UVU student. "Seeing his vulnerability makes it easier to connect with what he's saying and actually listen."
Crews, who is also an activist, talk show host and artist, talked about his life and what he's overcome to reach the success he enjoys today. Growing up in Flint, Michigan, wasn't always easy, he said. The 1980s crack epidemic hit his town hard. he explained, and he knew he didn't want to stay there.
"I think his upbringing was very relatable to me, especially the part where he said that even though it's difficult speaking about the hard things that's happened in his life, it's necessary for him to see how good he's got it now and respect himself more for how he's handled everything and pushed through it," Nava-Zapien said.
Crews was raised in a strict religious household he described as "one step up from Amish," and said his mother was "addicted to religion." His father was an abusive alcoholic, he said, and one of his earliest memories is witnessing his father hit his mother hard in the face when he was 5 years old.
“The lesson I learned that — me as a man — I learned that I was more valuable than my wife and kids simply because I was a man,” he said. “I remember thinking 'I gotta be strong because one day he’ll probably try to kill me,'” Crews said, citing his father's abuse as a key reason he wanted to be muscular.
By society's definition of masculinity, “It’s impossible to be more masculine than me,” Crews said. He explained that if a man can physically dominate someone, society respects them more. This is part of the culture he said he wants to help change.
He also addressed his addiction to pornography, which he said began around the age of eight and stayed with him into his adult life.
“We have a face image and then we have the real us,” which Crews said he believes is common for a lot of men. “I had a double life. And that is so exhausting to be two people.”
A video about his struggle with pornography went viral in 2014, and since then he's been vocal about the harm it did to his life. Crews also came out as a sexual assault victim shortly after the #MeToo movement began and is a known advocate for it.7 comments on this story
"Men need to hold other men accountable," Crews told reporters. "If we just deal with who we are as men, the problem would disappear." He also clarified he never wanted to speak for women or for groups he doesn't belong to.
Crews said he hopes students learn something from his story and feel inspired by it. Specifically, to know how to recover from failure.
"It's not like you get a 'No' and now your dream is over," he said. "I learned after that, that you just have to continue and keep going and keep trying and that taught me a lot."