Michael Oher’s Journey: Setting the Record Straight on His Inspiring Homelessness-to-NFL Story | CNN

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In his 2011 memoir, Michael Oher wrote that he had a special skill for forgetting his difficult past.

“To get out of that world, I did have to forget,” he wrote in “I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond.”

“To get to the next place in my life, I had to face what I left behind.”

That pledge to look deeper into his past has taken on greater meaning this week as Oher, whose story has often been tagged as an “inspirational” rags-to-riches tale, alleges that a major feature of the tale is false.

As told in the acclaimed book and movie “The Blind Side,” Oher, who is Black, overcame homelessness and poverty in Memphis and enjoyed a lengthy NFL career thanks to his otherworldly athleticism on the football field and the love and support of the Tuohy family, a wealthy White family who took him in and adopted him.

But on Monday, Oher filed a petition in a Tennessee court saying Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy had never actually adopted him. Instead, he argued, they filed a conservatorship over him that kept millions of dollars from him.

A lawyer for Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, Steve Farese, said they have no comment.

Martin Singer, another lawyer representing the family, issued a statement Tuesday.

“Anyone with a modicum of common sense can see that the outlandish claims made by Michael Oher about the Tuohy family are hurtful and absurd,” Singer said. “The idea that the Tuohys have ever sought to profit off Mr. Oher is not only offensive, it is transparently ridiculous.”

“The notion that a couple worth hundreds of millions of dollars would connive to withhold a few thousand dollars in profit participation payments from anyone – let alone from someone they loved as a son – defies belief,” the statement said.

Sean Tuohy told the Daily Memphian that his family was devastated.

“It’s upsetting to think we would make money off any of our children. But we’re going to love Michael at 37 just like we loved him at 16,” he said, according to a Daily Memphian story, published Monday.

The allegation fits into Oher’s push over the years to reclaim his story and correct the record on his life. In his memoir, written with author Don Yaeger, Oher called out some details in “The Blind Side” book and movie that he said were not true, and while he spoke lovingly of the Tuohy family, he bristled at suggestions that he would not have succeeded if not for their help.

“‘The Blind Side’ is about how one family helped me reach my fullest potential, but what about the people and experiences that all added up to putting me in their path? As anyone in my family will tell you, they were just part of a complicated series of events and personalities that helped me achieve success,” he wrote. “They were a huge part of it, but it was a journey I’d started a long time before.”

In particular, Oher emphasized his own goals and work ethic and praised those who actually listened to him.

“I got the chance to become something because I had a desire to break out of my neighborhood, and because there were people around me who took that dream seriously,” he wrote.

Michael Oher hoists the Golden Egg trophy with teammates after Ole Miss beat Mississippi State on November 28, 2008, in Oxford, Mississippi.

Oher was born in 1986 in Memphis as one of 12 siblings to a mother who struggled with drug addiction.

“My mother did her best. I have to give her that much,” he wrote in his memoir. “When she was sober, she worked hard to give us a good home and look after us. The problem was that she wasn’t sober much.”

Oher became a ward of the state of Tennessee just before he turned 11 in 1996, and soon after began living on the streets or with friends.

The instability affected his education. As the author Michael Lewis wrote in the book “The Blind Side,” Oher attended 11 different institutions in his first nine years of school, and repeated both first and second grade. He was often absent from class and at one point had a GPA of 0.6, Lewis wrote.

Eventually, a friend’s father helped get him into the Briarcrest Christian School, a private school where he was one of the few Black students. One reason the school accepted him was due to his rare physical gifts.

Known as “Big Mike,” Oher was over 6 feet tall as a teenager and had both a massive frame and quick feet. After getting his bearings in the classroom, he thrived on the basketball, track and field and football teams. In football he particularly excelled as a left tackle on the offensive line, using his strength and speed to shove defensive players out of the way.

In 2003, he began to stay more often with the Tuohy family, whose daughter Collins also attended Briarcrest. Over time, they became closer and took him in full time, offering him a bed and clothes and making him a part of their family.

“The Tuohys did tell Michael they loved him and that they intended to legally adopt him. Michael believed them, was delighted to be part of a real family, and trusted Mr. and Mrs. Tuohy completely,” the petition Oher filed said.

In 2005, Oher earned a scholarship to play football at the University of Mississippi, the alma mater of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy. Oher started 47 consecutive games at Ole Miss and was named a consensus All-American in 2008.

Michael Oher posed with the Tuohy family and others when he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

Lewis’ book “The Blind Side” was published in 2006 while Oher was in college and told his personal story of rising from homelessness to big-time college football. The book also used Oher’s story as a way to illustrate the rise in importance of the left tackle position, which protects the “blind side” of (typically right-handed) quarterbacks from oncoming pass rushers.

In April 2009, the Baltimore Ravens selected Oher with the 23rd pick of the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, and he celebrated with the Tuohy family and others on stage. The 6-foot-5, 309-pound lineman made an immediate impact, as he was named the runner-up in AP Offensive Rookie of the Year voting.

Later that year, the film version of “The Blind Side” was released and featured a fictionalized version of Oher’s story.

The movie became a runaway hit, grossing over $300 million, according to the petition. It was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy.

Michael Oher's Journey: Setting the Record Straight on His Inspiring Homelessness-to-NFL Story | CNN 1

Oher took issue with some parts of the film in his memoir, particularly its portrayal of his limited knowledge of the sport and a scene in which he supposedly was wearing shorts on a cold night.

“Obviously, the moviemakers have to make artistic choices to tell the story in the best way, but some of the details, like me having to learn the game of football as a teenager or me walking to the gym in November wearing cut-off shorts, just aren’t true,” he wrote.

The film made him a household name in what is often an anonymous position along the offensive line.

He played both left and right tackle in Baltimore for five seasons, helping them win a Super Bowl in 2013. In all, he started 110 games over eight seasons with Baltimore, the Tennessee Titans and the Carolina Panthers, and earned over $34 million, according to Spotrac, a website that tracks sports contracts.

Oher last played in the NFL in the 2016 season. He has founded the non-profit organization The Oher Foundation to give opportunities and support to disadvantaged students.

Michael Oher played five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens over his eight-year NFL career.

The petition filed Monday challenging the conservatorship says soon after he moved in, the Tuohys gave him legal papers he thought were necessary for the adoption.

“Michael trusted the Tuohys and signed where they told him to sign. What he signed, however, and unknown to Michael until after February 2023, were not adoption papers, or the equivalent of adoption papers,” the petition states. Instead, the papers appointed Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy as his conservators.

The papers requested that the conservators “have total control over Michael Oher’s ability to negotiate for or enter any contract, despite the fact he was over 18 years of age and had no diagnosed physical or psychological disabilities,” the petition states.

The petition says at no point did the Tuohys tell him they would have “ultimate control of all of his contracts” and Oher “was falsely advised by the Tuohys” that the “adoption” would have to be called a conservatorship since he was over 18.

“The Tuohys have falsely and publicly represented themselves as the adoptive parents of Michael, continuing to the date of the filing of this petition,” the petition states.

Around September 2006, the Tuohys negotiated contracts for the movie “The Blind Side” for themselves and their two other children through Creative Artists Agency to each to receive “$225,000 plus 2.5% of all future ‘Defined Net Proceeds’” contingent on Oher signing, the petition states. Oher’s agent for the contract was listed as the attorney who filed his conservatorship, according to the petition.

Another contract from April 2007 exists that was “purportedly signed by Michael Oher” in which Oher gives away his name, likeness, voice, etc. to the movie studio “without any payment whatsoever,” the petition states. Oher thinks the signature on the contract looks similar to his, but he is not sure if it was forged because he said “at no time ever willingly or knowingly” did he sign a document that explained he would be giving away rights to his name, image, etc., the petition states.

The document states he only learned about the conservatorship in February of this year.

Singer, the Tuohys’ lawyer, said in the statement “the Tuohys have given Mr. Oher an equal cut of every penny received from The Blind Side.”

“The Tuohys have always been upfront about how a conservatorship (from which not one penny was received) was established to assist with Mr. Oher’s needs, ranging from getting him health insurance and obtaining a driver’s license to helping with college admissions,” the statement said. “Should Mr. Oher wish to terminate the conservatorship, either now or at anytime in the future, the Tuohys will never oppose it in any way.”

Sean Tuohy told the Daily Memphian, “We didn’t make any money off the movie.”

“Well, Michael Lewis gave us half his share. Everybody in the family got an equal share, including Michael. It was about $14,000 each,” Tuohy said, according to the Daily Memphian.

“It’s hard because you have to defend yourself, but whatever he wants, we’ll do,” Sean Tuohy said, according to the Daily Memphian. “We’re not in this for anything other than whatever he wants. If he’d have said, ‘I don’t want to be part of the family anymore,’ we’d have been very upset, but we absolutely would have done it.

“No question, the allegations are insulting, but, look, it’s a crazy world. You’ve got to live in it. It’s obviously upset everybody,” he added.

Sean Tuohy Jr., the son of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, told Barstool Radio on Monday that he found it hard to believe Oher learned about the conservatorship this year.

“I was curious today, randomly, to go back and look at our family group texts and see what things have been said,” he said. “There was things back in 2020, 2021 that were like you know, ‘If you guys give me this much, then I won’t go public with things.’”

CNN reached out to representatives for Lewis for comment but has not heard back.

Oher was married last November to his longtime partner, Tiffany Roy, who he met in college. They share sons Kobi and MJ and daughters Kierstin and Naivi. His latest book, “When Your Back’s Against the Wall,” also with Yaeger, was published last week.

In an interview on Monday with “The Jim Rome Show,” Oher did not discuss the lawsuit but said he was grateful to every family who helped him along the way.

“There’s a lot of people that deserve a lot of credit,” he said. “For me, I wanna show the young people and everyone behind me that, ‘Hey, you deserve some credit for your hard work. You can get it done and that’s really the goal.’”

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