Michael Oher, the former NFL star whose life story inspired Oscar-winning film “The Blind Side,” says he genuinely believed he’d been adopted by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy after they took him in as a teenager in Memphis, Tennessee.
With a mother who struggled with drug abuse, Oher often found himself without a stable home and became a ward of the state by age 11. By the time he met the Tuohys, Oher was homeless.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Oher says the couple misled him into signing away his legal rights and entering a conservatorship under the guise that it would legally make him a member of the family.
A conservatorship is a legal arrangement that can strip a person of their civil rights, putting a third-party in charge of their ability to make contract or medical decisions for themselves.
But Oher genuinely believed he was a part of their family, and the Tuohys referred to him as their son and brother. For years, the Tuohy family leaned in to the popularity of the “The Blind Side” book by Michael Lewis as well as the film, becoming advocates for adoption and foster care.
Leigh Anne Tuohy established the Making It Happen Foundation for underprivileged youth and has spent years encouraging people to consider adoption on television and social media. Testimonials on the foundation website even include comments as to how inspiring the family’s story has been to people’s outlooks on their own families and how they treat others.
That legacy might now be called into question.
According to a petition to end the conservatorship filed Monday, Oher learned the conservatorship didn’t have the power to make him a legal member of their family in February.
“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 petition reads.
The Tuohys used ‘The Blind Side’ fame to promote adoption
Sandra Bullock won an Oscar in 2010 for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy in “The Blind Side,” bringing attention to the mother who saw her daughter’s homeless classmate and gave him a place to stay.
The movie chronicles how Oher, with the Tuohy family’s help, transitioned from homelessness to attending college as a star player for the Ole Miss Rebels. (He later played for the NFL, primarily the Baltimore Ravens.)
Over the years, Leigh Anne Tuohy has used the platform the movie awarded her to advocate for adoption and fostering of children. She posts a child who is need of a home nearly every week in what she calls #ForeverFamilyFriday on Instagram.
In multiple interviews over the last decade, she insisted that her message to people everywhere is that “families don’t have to match.”
She even hosted a television series on UpTV in 2013 called “Family Addition,” which centered on stories of adoption.
In a trailer for the series, Leigh Anne Tuohy describes Oher as “our son” before noting that many “heroes” make homes for children across the country.
She also did a 2018 interview with NBC affiliate KSDK about the NBC series “This is Us,” saying people reach out to her after every episode of the drama airs. The Emmy-award winning drama centers around a white family who adopted an abandoned baby, who is Black, after the couple loses one of their newborn triplets the same day.
“It has scarily paralleled our journey, and it’s very interesting,” she said. “And it’s not just our journey, there are many people that are on this journey. Ours just happens to be the one, you know, that got told.”
In an interview with “TODAY” in 2016, she said that she loved Oher “as much as I love my two biological children. There’s no difference in them.”
But the Tuohys did receive financial compensation as a result of their relationship with Oher, according to his petition to terminate the conservatorship. He alleges that the Tuohys received hundreds of thousands of dollars in both pay and charitable donations as part of the deal they negotiated for his life story — while he was paid nothing.
In a statement through their attorney, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy described the allegations made in Oher’s petition as “hurtful and absurd.”
The couple said that they have always been upfront with Oher about the conservatorship and have split any profit from “The Blind Side” with him equally.
“Even recently, when Mr. Oher started to threaten them about what he would do unless they paid him an eight-figure windfall, and, as part of that shakedown effort refused to cash the small profit checks from the Tuohys, they still deposited Mr. Oher’s equal share into a trust account they set up for his son,” the statement from attorney Marty Singer said.
The couple also alleged that Oher has attempted to “run this play” before but struggled to find a lawyer who would represent him.
“The Tuohys will always care deeply for Mr. Oher. They are heartbroken over these events,” the statement said. “They desperately hope that he comes to regret his recent decisions, makes different choices in the future and that they someday can be reconciled with him.”
Oher believed the Tuohys were legally his family
In his 2011 memoir “I Beat The Odds,” Oher seemed to genuinely believed the conservatorship was a form of adoption for legal adults.
Oher wrote Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy had “assumed responsibility” for him as guardians already but the couple was making the formal decision to make him “a legal member of the Tuohy family.”
“Since I was already over the age of eighteen and considered an adult by the stated of Tennessee, Sean and Leigh Anne would be named as my ‘legal conservators.’ They explained to me 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,” Oher wrote.
He went on to say he was simply happy that no one could argue what he already knew was true: He and the Tuohys were family.
Oher briefly spoke about the Tuohys in an interview Monday with Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Marshall Ramsey, who interviewed Oher, said the conversation occurred before news broke about petition.
Oher was promoting his latest book, “When Your Back’s Against the Wall: Fame, Football, and Lessons Learned Through a Lifetime of Adversity,” and discussed his life prior to living with the Tuohy family.
“The things I went through and had to do to go through to that point I went through from 3-years-old to 18 when I moved in with the Tuohy family — who I’m grateful for letting me stay my senior year there — but you have to understand… what it took for me to get to that point,” Oher said.
Over the years, Oher has made it clear he is not a big fan of “The Blind Side” because of how he felt it misrepresented him. He also has said that the film often distracted people from who he actually is as a person.
In his memoir, Oher wrote he had to deal with a bit of wounded pride over how the film made him seem like he knew nothing about football. It allowed people to believe that he was “so clueless about something I had always taken pride in being pretty smart about,” he wrote.
“I liked the movie as a movie, but in terms of it representing me, that’s where I had a hard time loving it,” he said. “I felt like it portrayed me as dumb instead of a as a kid who never had consistent academic instruction and ended up thriving one he got it.”
Oher told ESPN in 2015 that the film has added scrutiny to his professional football career. He noted that much of the criticism had “nothing to do with football. It’s something else off the field. That’s why I don’t like that movie.”