Motivational speaker Tony Robbins apologized on Sunday after he found himself the subject of heated criticism on social media after footage went viral of comments he made about the #MeToo movement.
"I apologize for suggesting anything other than my profound admiration for the #MeToo movement," Robbins said in a Facebook post. "Let me clearly say, I agree with the goals of the #MeToo movement and its founding message of 'empowerment through empathy,' which makes it a beautiful force for good."
Robbins said he will try to connect more with the "brave women of #MeToo."
"Sometimes, the teacher has to become the student and it is clear that I still have much to learn," he said, noting his respect for Tarana Burke, the woman who created the #MeToo movement.
Burke was one of several people who criticized Robbins on Saturday for his comments. "We have a hard enough time trying to shift the narrative about what this movement really is and he stands in front of thousands of his followers and completely misrepresents the @MeTooMVMT," she tweeted.
Speaking in San Jose, California, on March 15, Robbins told a packed auditorium that some were using the movement to revel in victimhood. This prompted a critique from one audience member, Nanine McCool, who told Robbins he misunderstands the #MeToo movement, but Robbins immediately interjected and said he was criticizing victimhood, not the broader movement.
"If you use the #MeToo movement to try to get significance and certainty by attacking and destroying someone else," he said, "all you’ve done is basically use a drug called significance to make yourself feel good."
McCool responded that he was "mischaracterizing" the movement. She said that there are a "significant number of people who are using it not to relive whatever may have happened to them, but to make it safe to the young women, so they don't have to experience it."
"I think you do the whole movement a disservice by characterizing it [like that]," she said.
Robbins responded by sharing an anecdote he had heard from "a dozen men" who didn't hire attractive women for roles in their offices because "it's too big a risk."
"I'm not saying the movement is wrong; I'm saying everything has a consequence," he said.
"Oh, the video is MUCH worse," wrote Burke. "His misogyny runs deep. To even repeat that story of his ‘friend’ who wouldn’t hire the ‘pretty woman’ as if it’s the MOVEMENT’s fault and not the sexist man’s fault is all you need to hear. It’s deplorable. But SO many folks misunderstand this work."
The exchange went viral on Saturday when NowThis News shared an edited video of the comments.
McCool told Vice News last month that she was a survivor of childhood abuse and physical violence, and felt compelled to respond to his comments.
"What I heard him say was #MeToo is great and all, but it's being used by all these women who don't want to deal with their own problems and they think being a victim is a way to work out their pain by making their perpetrators suffer and that doesn't help them. It happened years ago and they need to let it go," she said.
"I was horrified in a sense that, ‘Oh my god, Tony Robbins, this great guy, just has it all wrong.’ I stood up and started yelling, ‘You've got it all wrong!’"
Burke said Saturday that Robbins' team had reached out to her do "damage control" about the exchange.
She also questioned his suggestion that people were using the #MeToo movement for selfish ends.
"Who have you seen using their story of sexual violence for ‘significance’?" she tweeted. "Name five prominent examples @TonyRobbins — please. I’ll wait."
Robbins' spokesperson, Jennifer Connelly, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday about Burke's tweets or Robbins' original comments.
However, she told Vice last month that Robbins had always been supportive of the #MeToo movement.
“He has devoted his life’s work, over 40 years, to help people end their pain and suffering and most importantly improve the quality of their lives," she said. "Tony is against abuse of any kind, to anyone, period.”