How Michael Oher’s inspiring rags-to-riches story fell to items

The feel-good story exploded onto the silver display screen in 2009, profitable over audiences and critics alike with a story of affection and triumph made all of the extra heartwarming by the truth that, by all accounts, it was primarily based in reality. The Blind Side recounted how Michael Oher, a Black teenage soccer participant within the Tennessee foster care system, had been taken in by a well-to-do white couple and their youngsters, two starkly completely different worlds intertwining as all of them grew to become a contented household and younger Michael sailed on to a profession in school soccer.

The movie received Sandra Bullock an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy, Michael’s adoptive mom, and a nomination for Best Picture. In actual life, Michael lined out for Ole Miss earlier than taking part in eight seasons with the NFL, the Tuohys showing at his facet for the 2009 draft day choice.

The household began a basis and Leigh Anne authored a 2010 ebook together with her husband, Sean. One yr later, Michael printed his personal autobiography, I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond – the ebook filled with comfortable anecdotes and images with the Tuohys, who’re thanked within the acknowledgments.

Michael printed his second ebook earlier this month, the Tuohys barely meriting a point out and showing nowhere within the thank-yous. Days later, attorneys for the retired NFL participant filed a petition within the Tennessee courts, alleging that the Tuohys, as an alternative of adopting Michael, carried out a conservatorship that secured them tens of millions in income from his story with out offering the identical for him.

A lawsuit is in search of an finish to each the conservatorship and the Tuohys use of Michael’s picture and likeness in addition to compensation for his share of the income, in response to the courtroom paperwork obtained by ESPN.

The Tuohys had been available to help Michael, referring to him as their “adopted son,” for the 2009 NFL draft, when he was chosen by the Baltimore Ravens throughout the first spherical


So how did the trials-to-triumph household story flip so bitter? Here’s all we all know concerning the Oher case.

How they met and have become a ‘family’

Michael Oher, now 37, was born in Memphis in 1986 to a mom of 12 battling dependancy and a father who was out and in of jail. From the age of seven, Michael alternated between foster care and homelessness, however he ultimately enrolled at and performed soccer for Briarcrest Christian School, the place Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy – who owned dozens of quick meals franchises in Tennessee – had additionally enrolled their son and daughter. Michael would typically stick with faculty households and shaped a specific bond with the Tuohys, who invited him to maneuver in with them the summer time earlier than his senior yr.

“Leigh Anne drove me around to all the different homes where I’d stayed and I collected the clothes or shoes I had left there to always have something to wear for school,” Michael writes in I Beat The Odds. “And when I carried everything upstairs to put it in the closet, I felt like I finally had a place in a normal home. Every night, Leigh Anne would tell the kids good night by saying, ‘I love you.’ She said it to me, too, and I started to believe she meant it.”

“Everything was so different from how it had been when I’d been placed with foster families,” he continues. “The Tuohys treated me like a member of the family –a real family – and not just as another mouth to feed or the reason for a monthly support check. I was building real relationships with the people around me; I wasn’t just a special project to them. I was a kid who wanted to feel loved and supported and know that my dreams and my future were just as important as anyone else’s.”

Michael graduated from Briarcrest and determined to play soccer at University of Mississippi – however not earlier than “one other pretty major event that happened right after I graduated high school: I became a legal member of the Tuohy family.”

“Leigh Anne and Sean had already assumed responsibility for me as guardians, which allowed them to sign my school permission slips and take me to medical appointments,” he continues in his first autobiography. “This last step was the one that would make everything binding.

“It kind of felt like a formality, as I’d been a part of the family for more than a year at that point. Since I was already over the age of eighteen and considered an adult by the state of Tennessee, Sean and Leigh Anne would be named as my ‘legal conservators,’” he writes. “They explained to me that it means pretty much the exact same thing as ‘adoptive parents,’ but that the laws were just written in a way that took my age into account.

“Honestly, I didn’t care what it was called,” he writes. “I was just happy that no one could argue that we weren’t legally what we already knew was real: We were a family.”

Michael’s profession, The Blind Side and household fame

Michael performed for Ole Miss – the Tuohys’ alma mater – from 2005 to 2008 and was recognised as a unanimous all-American, graduating in 2009 with a level in legal justice. The similar yr, he entered the NFL draft and was chosen within the first spherical by the Baltimore Ravens, the Tuohys fortunately available to lend help.

But 2009 launched the household onto the world stage, not simply by means of MIchael’s NFL entree but in addition by means of the Hollywood therapy – when The Blind Side, primarily based on a 2006 soccer ebook of the identical identify by acclaimed creator Michael Lewis, hit film theaters. Starring Tim McGraw and Sandra Bullock as Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, the movie earned greater than $300m on the field workplace simply as Michael ready for the primary of eight NFL seasons. The Blind Side was nominated for Best Picture on the Academy Awards, and its main woman took house an Oscar for Best Actress.

The Tuohys and their “adopted son” grew to become family names. In 2010, Sean and Leigh Anne printed In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving, about their inspirational story with Michael, and established the Making It Happen Foundation. The charity’s major goal – as described on its web site that includes footage of Michael and the Tuohys – “is championing for the child that no one is looking out for….who has no one in his or her corner. This can be supporting a low-income school, helping a student going off to college, encouraging a foster mom, or just simply connecting some dots.” Leigh Anne, an inside designer and motivational speaker, grew to become a preferred determine at occasions and on tv, preaching love and acceptance and inspiration.

FILE – Michael Oher, left, Collins Tuohy, second from left, and Leigh Anne Tuohy, whose lives are portrayed within the Oscar-nominated film “The Blind Side,” communicate with Pastor Kerry Shook, proper, March 3, 2010 at Woodlands Church’s Fellowship Campus in The Woodlands, TX.


Michael, a yr after the charity’s formation, printed I Beat The Odds, writing within the dedication: “And to the Tuohy family, you are truly a blessing to me. Thank you for helping me to turn my dreams into reality.” He began his circle of relatives together with his school sweetheart, Tiffany; the pair have 4 youngsters and married in 2022.

By then, nevertheless, cracks had begun to indicate within the happy-ending facade.

The rift

There aren’t any public images of Michael and Tiffany with the Tuohys on their wedding ceremony day – they usually not comply with one another on Instagram. The NFL participant, sidelined with concussion and harm, was launched by the Carolina Panthers in 2017, writing concerning the tough interval and his well being woes in a brand new ebook launched earlier this month.

He additionally writes about his private life – mentioning the Tuohys solely as soon as. They seem nowhere within the dedication or acknowledgements.

For years, Michael has made no secret that he has conflicted emotions about The Blind Side – significantly taking difficulty together with his portrayal within the movie and the way it impacted his NFL profession.

“I‘m not trying to prove anything,’’ he told ESPN in 2015. “People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie. They don’t really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That’s why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field.

“This stuff, calling me a bust, people saying if I can play or not … that has nothing to do with football. It’s something else off the field. That’s why I don’t like that movie.’’

His frustrations are further evident in his new book, When Your Back’s Against the Wall: Fame, Football, and Lessons Learned through a Lifetime of Adversity.

Actress Sandra Bullock attends the premiere of “The Blind Side” at the Ziegfeld Theatre on November 17, 2009 in New York City; she won an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy

(Getty Images)

“For the most part, my struggle and fight for survival as a kid was a solo journey,” he writes. “Yes, there were the occasional hands held out to give me temporary relief, but day in and day out it was just me and my own efforts. I survived the hands dealt to me from the ages of three to eighteen, before the Tuohys ever entered the scene like you saw on the big screen. Today I am once again working my way through life with my own family.”

That household doesn’t seem to nonetheless embrace the Tuohys. His new tome additionally features a playbook, with #3 dictating; “Have a Small Circle.”

“For a long time, I thought one’s circle had to be immediate family,” he writes. “I didn’t realize it was a choice. One of the most important choices I could ever make.”

He continues later within the chapter: “People aren’t always who you think they are. I’ve found that if you have any amount of celebrity or notoriety attacked to your name, your circle is even smaller than you think.”

He mentions his pastor, his shut school buddy, his spouse. The Tuohys are usually not included – although Michael does reference adoption within the new ebook.

“It always feels good to encourage people who come up to me and want to talk about adoption,” he writes in When Your Back’s Against the Wall. “You might think that is crazy, considering some of the grievances I’ve aired, but despite any complexities that have come from my own personal story, I wholeheartedly believe in adoption …One thing that story did that was undeniably positive was that it gave people the freedom to act on something tugging their hearts. So I encourage them. I tell them what a good thing they did. The white parents I know personally who have adopted Black kids did so out of love.”

Six days after the publication of the ebook, Michael’s authorized group filed courtroom papers in Tennessee alleging the Tuohys had by no means adopted Michael in any respect – and had profited financially from his story whereas proceeds had been stored from him.

The authorized battle

A petition filed in probate courtroom in Shelby County, Tennessee, alleges that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy used their place as conservators to comply with a deal that noticed them and their two organic youngsters paid for The Blind Side whereas Michael made nothing for the inspirational story “that would not have existed without him”, reported ESPN.

File: Tackle Michael Oher #73 of the Carolina Panther addresses the media previous to Super Bowl 50 on the San Jose Convention Center/ San Jose Marriott on 2 February 2016

(Getty Images)

“The lie of Michael’s adoption is one upon which Co-Conservators Leigh Anne Tuohy and Sean Tuohy have enriched themselves at the expense of their Ward, the undersigned Michael Oher,” the outlet quotes courtroom paperwork as stating.

“Michael Oher discovered this lie to his chagrin and embarrassment in February of 2023, when he learned that the Conservatorship to which he consented on the basis that doing so would make him a member of the Tuohy family, in fact provided him no familial relationship with the Tuohys.”

The retired NFL participant has requested the courtroom to finish the conservatorship and to ban the Tuohys from utilizing his identify and likeness. He additionally desires a full accounting of the cash the household made utilizing his identify and to be paid a justifiable share of the income. He can also be in search of an unspecified quantity of punitive and compensatory damages.

“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,” the petition added.

“All monies made in said manner should in all conscience and equity be disgorged and paid over to the said ward, Michael Oher.”

The lawsuit states that the Tuohys and their two start youngsters had been every paid $225,000, plus 2.5 per cent of the movie’s “defined net proceeds” for the film. The film grossed greater than $300m.

Oher’s attorneys say that they discovered he was not legally adopted in February and that he has been left devastated by the invention.

“Mike didn’t grow up with a stable family life,” mentioned legal professional J Gerard Stranch IV.

“When the Tuohy family told Mike they loved him and wanted to adopt him, it filled a void that had been with him his entire life. Discovering that he wasn’t actually adopted devastated Mike and wounded him deeply.”

But Sean Tuohy later instructed the Daily Memphian that Oher’s claims have “devastated” the household and defended not adopting him.

“We contacted lawyers who had told us that we couldn’t adopt over the age of 18; the only thing we could do was to have a conservatorship. We were so concerned it was on the up-and-up that we made sure the biological mother came to court,” he mentioned.

And he added: “We didn’t make any money off the movie. Well, Michael Lewis, the [author of the book on which the movie was based] gave us half of his share. Everybody in the family got an equal share, including Michael. It was about $14,000, each.”

The Independent has reached out to MIchael’s lawyer and a consultant for Leigh Anne Tuohy.

What occurs subsequent

As the authorized battle unfolds, Michael continues to advertise his ebook; posting images from ebook signings, with followers and even with one other member of the Briarcrest neighborhood – a coach he waxes lyrical about in his new ebook, not a Tuohy. On Tuesday, his picture nonetheless featured entrance and heart on the Make It Happen website, the place he’s additionally listed underneath “Our Family” as “adopted son” alongside Leigh Anne, Sean and their two grownup youngsters.

The website additionally incorporates a part titled After The Blind Side, touting how “The Tuohy family’s inspirational story has been covered all over the national media includingGood Morning America, The Today Show, 20/20, and Huckabee to name a few. They are also working on a new book and potential televisions shows. They are actively involved in many civic and faith-based organizations, including Grace Evangelical Church, of which they are founding members.

“At the podium, they invite audiences to go behind-the-scenes of the Tuohy household with a heartwarming message:

“‘In our house, we believe in miracles.’”

That message, nevertheless – and the inspirational story that has develop into a beloved American story – has now been tarnished by allegations of deception and lies. And it simply might take a miracle to place that family again collectively.

The Independent’s Graeme Massie contributed to this report.

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