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Terry Crews On His Sexual Assault Lawsuit: This Is About Accountability

Dec 10, 2017
Originally published on December 10, 2017 10:26 pm

Updated 7:00 p.m. ET:

Actor and former NFL player Terry Crews filed a lawsuit last week stemming from an encounter at a party in 2016 when he says a high-powered Hollywood agent groped him.

Crews tweeted about the assault in October, prompted by the women who came forward accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment and the backlash they faced.

"Once the Weinstein story broke, and these women were coming out and saying what he did, and I just kept hearing ... 'Oh boy, these women, here they come, they just want attention and a payday,' " he said. "And I got angry. I got really angry, because I said, 'They're being dismissed, like this stuff is happening, it happens, it happened to me.' "

The Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor says Adam Venit, a talent agent at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, made sexual gestures with his tongue at him and later grabbed his genitals. Crews spoke with officials at the agency soon after but was ignored, he said. The lawsuit says "it is now time to hold Venit accountable for his sexual predatory behavior and to hold WME accountable for its conduct in condoning, ratifying, and encouraging" that behavior.

NPR reached out to William Morris Endeavor for comment about the case. A spokesperson said that the company launched an investigation into the incident as soon as they learned about it, which they say was in October of this year. They said, "The investigation has resulted in Adam Venit being suspended without pay and demoted from his position as head of the motion picture department."

Crews was one of the first male actors in Hollywood to speak out during the Me Too movement. He was recognized last week as part of "The Silence Breakers," the group of men and women collectively named Time magazine's Person of the Year.

NPR's Michel Martin spoke with Crews about the incident, how he became an activist and why he is fighting to hold people in Hollywood accountable.


Interview Highlights

On why he spoke out after the Weinstein allegations surfaced

I remember just feeling like 'No, somebody's got to support them. Somebody's got to back these people up, because they're about to get shamed. They're about to get thrown to the wolves.' And I said, 'I've got to back these women up because they are going through the toughest time in their life, and it happened to me.' That was the big thing, I had to describe what it feels like — why should you come forward? Because you could lose everything. You are going to be ostracized. And everyone was like 'They're just lying, and they want this,' and I'm like 'What's the reason to lie?' You know? There's no reason.

On the backlash he's received after speaking out

It's been very, very strange, because there have been a lot of white racists who have been coming out and saying, 'You're a coward, you're nothing, you're weak' and whatever and then a lot of black extremists that are like 'You are the weakest black man of all time.' One thing that both of those guys agree on is that I should have punched him and hurt him and destroyed him, you know. That's the code of masculinity right there, you know.

On why he didn't retaliate physically after the assault

I mean first of all, you're talking about a country where a little kid is walking with a pack of Skittles and gets harassed by a man and the kid ends up dead, and the harasser is still walking around free. I know what kind of country this is. And I know I would instantly been seen as 'Oh there it is, that nice Terry Crews was a joke and he's really a thug. He's really, this is the real Terry Crews, we always knew that all these big black guys just want to kill us, and they're waiting for excuses.' I've been approached like that many many times, and it changed the narrative for me. Because I couldn't even feel like I could defend myself, honestly. And I grab my wife's hand, and we ran out of there. We were out.

On what he hopes the lawsuit will accomplish

This is about accountability. This is about discipline. I don't want revenge, that's not what I'm looking for. What I'm looking for is discipline. Because they tried to throw the shame on me, and I have to keep reminding myself — I will not be shamed. I did nothing wrong. You almost have to repeat it. Because somehow our society is wired for the victim to take the whole brunt of shame. Because if no one gets a pass, if everyone holds everyone accountable every time, the whole system will be disciplined into knowing how to behave because this is all about not accepting this foul behavior.

Isabel Dobrin produced this story for the web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last week, Time magazine announced the silence breakers as their person of the year, referring to those who helped create a greater awareness around sexual assault and harassment. Terry Crews is one of those silence breakers. He is a former NFL player, now an actor who currently stars in the TV show "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." He was one of the first male actors to say me too when he tweeted about being groped by an influential Hollywood agent at a party in 2016. He's with us now from our studios in Culver City, Calif. Terry Crews, thank you so much for speaking with us.

TERRY CREWS: Good to be here.

MARTIN: And I'm sorry to take you back to that moment because I know it can't be easy or pleasant, but I did want to ask you about the night that you tweeted about back in 2016. Could you just - again, I know it's not pleasant or fun, could you just set the stage for us? I mean, it was a party, and then what happened?

CREWS: I was invited to a party with Adam Sandler, and my wife and I went. And I've been doing a lot of things with Adam. I've done almost eight pictures with them. I know a lot of his contemporaries and the whole thing. But this was the first time that I met Mr. Adam Venit, who was his agent. But I knew who he was because we were both at the same agency. And I'm looking at him, and he's staring at me from across the room. He's sticking his tongue in and out of his mouth, like it's very sexual connotations. I'm going, this is weird. I literally looked behind me. I thought he was looking at somebody else. You know, I'm going, what's this? And I turned back around, and it was clear he was looking at me. And he comes up to me, and I stick my hand out, my right hand, just to say hey. He takes his right hand up, I'm thinking he's going to shake my hand, and he grabs my - and squeezes my genitals. I just jumped back like, hey, hey, hey, like, whoa, whoa, whoa. And it's hard to describe what happens at that moment because you just like - you think I'm somebody else? You know, like, I'm trying to find ways to rectify what this is about, you know.

MARTIN: It's like your mind can't accept what your body is experiencing in a way.

CREWS: You know, the only thing I can really compare it to, I had a car stolen before. And, you know, you go back. And you, you know, I parked here, but it's not here. It's the confusion and the weirdness. You're like, what did I do? You're trying to put together a reality and it's not making sense.

MARTIN: So what happened after that?

CREWS: I wanted to go hurt him seriously and basically knock his head off. I mean, it was one of those things where I was like, you got to understand, you can't do this.

MARTIN: So just to fast-forward a bit. I mean, when you tweeted about this, you said, look, I thought twice about how the whole thing would appear - 240-pound black man stomps out Hollywood honcho would be the headline the next day. So you figured you would be blamed.

CREWS: That's it. I mean, first of all, you're talking about a country where a little kid is walking with a pack of Skittles and gets harassed by a man, and the kid ends up dead, and the harasser is still walking around free. I know what kind of country this is. And I know I would instantly be seen as, oh, there it is, that nice Terry Crews was a joke and he's really a thug. He's really - this is the real Terry Crews. We always knew that all these big black guys just want to kill us and they're waiting for excuses. I've been approached like that many, many times. And it changed the narrative for me because I couldn't even feel like I could defend myself, honestly. And I grabbed my wife's hand, and we ran out of there. We were out.

MARTIN: So at what point did you decide it was time to talk about that night?

CREWS: Well, the next day, I called my agent. And he's like, oh, my God, we're going to - we're going to handle this. Believe me, we take this stuff very seriously. Let me tell you, if I hear that phrase one more time, it's like a joke now because, you know, whenever anybody is saying they're going to take you very seriously, it's not being taken seriously at all. And then I got a call from Venit himself to apologize. Like, he's like, you know, man, I'm sorry. And, you know, I wasn't myself that night. First of all, it was - when you say I'm sorry like the way he gave me, it was for when you step on somebody's foot by mistake. You know, I was just like, this is ridiculous.

So I brought it up to everyone and was told it was going to be handled at its highest levels. And I was ignored for a year and a half. I never went to any William Morris meetings at the offices. I never went to any William Morris parties or functions or anything. I avoided them like the plague because I just didn't want to run into him again. I never want to see him because I knew if he would have stuck his tongue out at me one more time, there would have been no mercy. I knew I would do something that I would regret.

MARTIN: So subsequently, so, you know, fast-forward. What made you decide to tweet about it and to talk about it? I mean, you did - I think, first of all, I appreciate your clarifying. You did talk about it. You did talk about it contemporaneously. And you did talk about it following, you know, what you thought would make sense reasonably, which is to talk to the people who hire him. What made you decide to tweet about it, to let everybody know that this had happened?

CREWS: Once the Weinstein story broke and these women were coming out and saying what he did. And I just kept hearing and looking at Twitter and looking online. And I was hearing, oh, boy, these women, here they come. They just want attention and a payday. And I got angry. I got really angry because I said, this is - they're being dismissed. I'm like, this stuff is happening. It happens. It happened to me. You know, I remember just feeling like, no, somebody's got to support them. Somebody's got to back these people up because they're about to get shamed. They're about to get thrown to the wolves.

And I said, I got to back these women up because they are going through the toughest time in their life and it happened to me. That was the big thing. I had to describe what it feels like. Why should you come forward? I mean, because you could lose everything. You are going to be ostracized. And everyone was like, they're just lying and they want this. I'm like, what's the reason to lie? You know, there's no reason.

MARTIN: To that end though, and in fact you said when you were interviewed by Time magazine, you said, until men stand up and say this harassment, this abuse, these assaults are wrong, nothing will change. If I was silent, it would mean I'm consenting to all of it. But I do have to ask you, have you felt that retaliation? Do you feel that there has been a backlash against you, just as there has been against some of the women who have spoken out?

CREWS: It's been very, very strange because there have been a lot of white racists who have been coming out and saying you're a coward. You are nothing. You are weak and whatever. And then a lot of black extremists that are like, you are the weakest black man of all time. Because one thing that both of those guys agree on is that I should've punched him and hurt him and destroyed him. You know, that's the cult of masculinity right there, you know. And then you get a lot of like, why are you even coming out on this kind of thing? And a lot of guys because what it is is man code, you know. You're supporting these women with this kind of thing. What I got was a lot of, you know, innocent until proven guilty. How can you accuse these people? And you can ruin their lives. That's the big question I got. Hey man, you know, these women, they could ruin a guy's life instantly.

MARTIN: So just this past week, you filed a lawsuit alleging assault, sexual battery, gender violence, saying the agency - against the individual himself and the agency, saying that the agency, quote, unquote, "condones sexual assault, and in doing so, encourages sexual predatory behavior." We reached out to William Morris Endeavor about the case. They haven't responded. But what do you hope this lawsuit will accomplish?

CREWS: This is about accountability. This is about discipline. I don't want revenge. That's not what I'm looking for. What I'm looking for is discipline because they tried to throw the shame on me. And I have to keep reminding myself I will not be shamed. I did nothing wrong. And you almost have to repeat it because somehow our society is wired for the victim to take the whole brunt of shame because if no one gets a pass, if everyone holds everyone accountable every time, the whole system will be disciplined into knowing how to behave because this is all about not accepting this foul behavior.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I just wondered, I mean, you have been sort of at the apex of what a lot of men aspire to. I mean, you've been an NFL star. You have been a, you know, an action hero star. You've been on television shows. And you're like a poster man for the masculine ideal. And I just wonder if, now that you've come out and said things like I have been a victim of this, and I just wonder, first of all, did you ever think that you would be a role model in that way? And how does it feel now that you've come out, as it were?

CREWS: You know, I have to say, you know, it's very hard for most men to ever say these kinds of things happen because of the shame. This is a cultural pandemic that has gone so far to the point where people feel like it's part of the job that you have to take this kind of treatment. And I feel that I am speaking and this lawsuit is standing for all the generations of men and women and children who were forced out of their dreams, had them destroy before their eyes and watched their predator go on to bigger and bigger success. Let me tell you, I've been to therapy over this thing. And it's funny because my therapist told me, she's like, you're now an activist. And, you know, it's weird because when the moment you don't take it anymore, you are an instantly an activist. It's not like standing in front of crowds of people or whatever but it's just saying no. No, I will not accept this. I will not stand for it. And, hey, anybody who wants to be with me and get behind me, let's go.

MARTIN: That's actor and former NFL star Terry Crews talking about his experiences with sexual harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry. Terry Crews was kind enough to join us from our studios at NPR West in Culver City. Terry Crews, thank you so much for speaking with us.

CREWS: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: After we talked with Terry Crews, a William Morris Endeavor spokesperson told us that the company launched an investigation into the incident as soon as they learned about it, which they say was in October of this year. They said, quote, "the investigation has resulted in Adam Venit being suspended without pay and demoted from his position as head of the motion picture department," unquote. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.