Michael Oher Says Adoption Story At Heart Of ‘The Blind Side’ Was A Lie
3:26 PM EDT on August 14, 2023
Let's remember The Blind Side, the 2009 movie based on a Michael Lewis book of the same name, starring Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, a prototypical no-nonsense wealthy southern football mom with a big heart who takes in a poor black teenager and loves him into becoming a future NFL star. It's a classic racial stereotype affair, in line with Driving Miss Daisy and The Help; but as much as the movie might give you the ick, it could always lean on the fact that it was a true story.
Well, mostly true. There have always been discrepancies between the movie, the book, and what actually happened, but it wasn't until now that Oher, the troubled black youth at the center of this "heartwarming" story who went on to have a long and successful NFL career, outright called the main component of the tale, that the Tuohy family adopted him as one of their own, a lie. According to 14-page court petition, reported out by ESPN, Oher was never actually adopted by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, but was instead tricked into signing into a conservatorship after he turned 18, which gave the family legal authority to make business deals in his name. Though Oher has been aware of the conservatorship, his court filing says that he was assured at the time by the Tuohy family that it was no different than an adoption—legal mumbo-jumbo to get around his legal adult standing at 18—and Oher believed that to be the case up until February of 2023, when he discovered that his conservatorship provided him with no familial relationship to the family. Meanwhile, the Tuohy's had enriched themselves using his story. From the petition:
"Since at least August of 2004, Conservators have allowed Michael, specifically, and the public, generally, to believe that Conservators adopted Michael and have used that untruth to gain financial advantages for themselves and the foundations which they own or which they exercise control. All monies made in said manner should in all conscience and equity be disgorged and paid over to the said ward, Michael Oher."
The petition alleges that the Tuohys, as conservators, struck a deal for them and their two birth children to receive millions of dollars in royalties from The Blind Side, a movie which earned more than $300 million at the box office. The petition also says that Oher supposedly signed his life rights away to 20th Century Fox in 2007 for no payment, but that he has no recollection of ever signing such a document.
The Blind Side has long been criticized for its loose interpretation of the facts of the Oher story, dramatizing it as the tale of a slow-witted, reserved young man with no purpose or options who finally finds his value after being brought into the Tuohy family. In the movie, Leigh Anne Tuohy more or less shows Oher how to be an offensive lineman. In actuality, Oher was an athletic prodigy excelling at various sports, especially football, despite his tenuous and tumultuous living circumstances. He had become a star on his high school football team by his junior year and was prone to rotating between living with various friends, including the Tuohys. The Tuohys eventually brought him into their home full-time and proposed adopting him outright, long after it was clear that he was a star athlete. Even still, that idea of the adoption, questionable motive and all, painted the Tuohys and this story as the kind of American feel-good schlock this country loves to eat up, and Leigh Anne Tuohy and her family have profited greatly as a result of that.
"Mike's relationship with the Tuohy family started to decline when he discovered that he was portrayed in the movie as unintelligent," said Oher's lawyer, J. Gerard Stranch IV. "Their relationship continued to deteriorate as he learned that he was the only member of the family not receiving royalty checks from the movie, and it was permanently fractured when he realized he wasn't adopted and a part of the family."
Oher has claimed that the movie affected his NFL career and the way certain teams looked at him. He's said that front offices might've assumed he was not intelligent, or a good leader, based on how he was depicted in the film. Oher's petition seeks a full accounting of the money the Tuohys made from his name, as well as his fair share of the profits and punitive damages.