The story of Michael Oher, the retired NFL star who was supposedly adopted by a wealthy white family who lifted him out of poverty, was immortalized in the 2009 blockbuster film “The Blind Side.” But now, Oher, 37, alleges that much of that heartwarming tale is a lie crafted by the family in order to profit off of his name, ESPN reports.
In a 14-page petition filed Monday in Shelby County, Tenn., Oher alleges that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy never actually adopted him, instead tricking him into ceding his authority to make business deals by making the couple his conservators at age 18.
Per ESPN, Oher claims that the Tuohys arranged the deal that paid them and their two birth children millions of dollars in royalties from the Oscar-winning movie, which raked in more than $300 million at the box office; Oher received no payment. The ex-NFL player alleges that the conservatorship “provided him no familial relationship with the Tuohys,” despite the family continuing to call him their “adopted son” and use the relationship to promote their foundation and Leigh Anne’s work as an author and motivational speaker.
Oher was raised a child with 11 siblings and his mother struggled with drug addiction. At 10 years old, he was placed into the foster care system and he spent the majority of his adolescence moving from home to home, at times living on the streets. As a teenage sports prodigy, Oher was introduced to the principal of a private Christian school in an affluent Memphis neighborhood, where he began playing football. He quickly became one of America’s top offensive lineman prospects and received various college scholarship offers. In high school, Oher frequently stayed over at the homes of his classmates, including the Tuohys, until Leigh Anne and Sean invited him to move in with them, encouraging him to call them “mom” and “dad.”
Oher, who went on to become a first-round NFL draft pick and Super Bowl winner with the Baltimore Ravens, wrote in his 2011 memoir “I Beat the Odds” that the Tuohys told him the conservatorship meant “pretty much the exact same thing as ‘adoptive parents.’”
According to the filing, the four Tuohys each made $225,000 plus 2.5% of “defined net proceeds” from “The Blind Side,” while Oher made nothing. According to ESPN, he allegedly signed a separate contract in 2007 that gave away his life rights to 20th Century Fox “without any payment whatsoever,” but Oher says he does not remember signing that contract and, if he did, no one warned him of its implications. (Distributor Warner Bros. and producer Alcon Entertainment were not involved in dealmaking for “The Blind Side,” nor responsible for payment of participants.)
Based on the report, the Tuohy family struck the deal for the film with an agent at CAA, while Oher’s agent is listed as Debra Branan, “a close family friend of the Tuohys and the same lawyer who filed the 2004 conservatorship petition.”
In their 2010 book “In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving,” the Tuohys claimed they made a flat fee from “The Blind Side.”
For years, Oher has publicly voiced disagreements with how the film, starring Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron, portrayed him. Per ESPN, he has said that “some NFL decision-makers assumed he was mentally slow, or lacked leadership skills” because the film made him out to be “unintelligent.”
Oher published his third book, “When Your Back’s Against the Wall: Fame, Football, and Lessons Learned through a Lifetime of Adversity,” last week. According to ESPN, he writes in the memoir, “There has been so much created from ‘The Blind Side’ that I am grateful for, which is why you might find it as a shock that the experience surrounding the story has also been a large source of some of my deepest hurt and pain over the past 14 years.”
Representatives for Oher’s representative and attorney, J. Gerard Stranch IV, were not immediately available for comment, as well as reps for writer-director John Lee Hancock and stars Bullock and Aaron. Variety has also reached out to the probate court and 20th Century Studios for comment.
From Variety US