Truth about the ‘Blind Side’ drama? We are all in the dark

by | Aug 20, 2023 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

There are three things you can be sure of if your life is made into a successful movie.

1) They will get things wrong.

2) Way more people will see the movie than you’ll ever meet in real life.

3) All those people will assume the wrong things are right.

The people depicted in the hit film “The Blind Side” are finding this out the hard way.

The movie came out in 2009 and earned an Academy Award for Sandra Bullock, who played Leigh Anne Tuohy, a rich, strong-willed, suburban mother who, along with her successful husband, Sean, take in a homeless Black teenager who develops into a strong, talented football player.

Based on a true story — and the book written by celebrated author Michael Lewis — “The Blind Side” was, for years, one of those feel-good tales. Family opens home and heart to struggling youth, defies racism and criticism, sees the young man blossom and grow into a successful athlete.

In real life, Michael Oher, the young man, actually went on to play in college and the NFL and even win a Super Bowl. He and the Touhys seemed part of a big happy family.

And the film earned a ton of money, reportedly over $300 million.

So, for a long time, it seemed like a win-win for everyone. The Tuohys were hailed for their faith and traveled around the country speaking about the experience. Oher earned big money in the NFL and even wrote his own book, in 2011, called “I Beat the Odds.”

And then, last week, it all came apart.

Wait for the facts

First came an announcement by Oher — or more accurately, lawyers for Oher — which claimed that the Tuohys had lied for years about adopting him, and actually just placed him in a conservatorship so they could reap millions from his story. Oher, who said he only found out about this in February, filed a petition seeking an end to that conservatorship and damages to compensate him.

Because this was the first salvo fired, and because many in the media don’t wait until all the facts come out, critics quickly jumped on the bandwagon. They lambasted the Tuohys, labeled them opportunists, and, not surprisingly, tinged some of their criticism with race.

The online magazine The Root wrote: “Whew, the jig is up! But to be honest, Black folk never cared for the film that much considering all the white characters in the movie serve as a positive influence to Michael, and nearly all of the Black characters serve as hindrances to him.

“Now it seems that that white family that ‘saved’ his life turned out to be his biggest enemies.”

His biggest enemies? Considering no one disputes that the Tuohy family took Oher in and helped him considerably — long before any movies or books were in the works — “biggest enemies” is quite a jump.

But then came the Tuohy family’s response. Sean Touhy told a Memphis media outlet, “We’re devastated. It’s upsetting to think we would make money off any of our children.”

The Tuohys not only disputed ever deceiving Oher, but claimed they didn’t make “millions” off the film, instead getting a relatively small advance and later a small share of net profits, which they split with family members, including Oher, equally.

In a counterclaim, the Tuohys’ attorneys stated that Oher had recently tried to shake the family down for $15 million, threatening to expose a bad story about them if they didn’t comply.

They also stated that they have no problem ending the conservatorship, which they said was only done to allow Oher to attend the University of Mississippi without Oher being accused of violating NCAA rules by the family supporting him.

The only reason they didn’t formally adopt him, they said, was because he was already 18 and too old.

In other words, they had a counter for every one of Oher’s charges.

And the criticism started flying in the other direction.

A change in tone

People wondered why Oher, at age 37, was only now leveling these criticisms. Could it be timed to promote his new book, which just came out this month?

Could it be that, having finished his NFL career seven years ago, he somehow needed money?

Jason Whitlock, who used to cover sports in the Detroit area and now has his own program on BlazeTV, called what Oher was doing to the Tuohy family “despicable.”

“He’s telling an obvious lie he knows most of the media will be too afraid to question because he’s Black,” Whitlock said on his show.

Whitlock, who is also Black, pointed out that in Oher’s previous book, written 12 years ago, he acknowledged the conservatorship.

“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.’ 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. I was just happy that no one could argue that we weren’t legally what we already knew was real: We were a family.”

Wow, has his tone changed.

But then, as if this story couldn’t get more bizarre, social media trolls began weighing in. Even though this is hardly the first time a movie didn’t exactly match the facts, they began attacking Sandra Bullock, claiming she should return the Oscar she won for the film.

Yeah. OK.

What we know

Look. Anytime outsiders try to weigh in on a family battle, they will largely be swinging wildly. That’s because nobody from the outside was there, and the nuances of family dynamics don’t tuck easily into lawsuits. What people said, what they meant, how they felt, what they promised, sounds much different in conversation around a dinner table than in legal briefs.

What we do know is this:

  • The family didn’t earn “millions” from the film. The real subjects never do. When a movie is made based on a book, studios normally pay a rights fee, to the subjects or to an author — in this case, according to Lewis, it was $250,000, which he said he split with the Tuohys and which they claim they split with Oher. Other income from “net” profits is almost never seen, but because “The Blind Side” did so well, some money eventually came in. Again, it wasn’t millions.
  • Michael Oher played in the NFL for eight seasons and reportedly earned over $34 million in salary alone. So he was hardly poor. Few media outlets bothered to report this, suggesting that Oher somehow struggled while the Tuohys lived lavishly off his story. Why leave this detail out?
  • The Tuohys were already rich before “The Blind Side,” and Sean Tuohy reportedly sold his fast food company for more than $200 million. “The last thing I needed was 40 grand from a movie,” he told the media.
  • The Tuohys actually could have adopted Oher even though he was 18, as long as certain rules were followed. And it’s true they have suggested for years that he was adopted — or at least didn’t correct others when they assumed that. Why the Touhys didn’t dissolve the conservatorship before now is yet unanswered.
  • Both the Tuohys and Oher have benefited from the movie, no matter how accurate or inaccurate it is. Oher became famous, and it’s doubtful a publisher would have offered an offensive lineman a book deal if not for the film. Meanwhile, the Tuohys have traveled and spoken extensively because of the story and their perception as sharing, loving people.
  • Something clearly has changed in the Tuohy-Oher dynamic.

Other than that, the outside world doesn’t know anything — beyond the fact that the two sides disagree.

But that hasn’t stopped media from puffing up righteously, leveling charges from “white saviorism” to shakedowns. The New York Times actually had a columnist watch the movie for the first time and offer a scathing take. Now he watches the movie?

Having been the subject of a couple of films myself, I can tell you this much: thinking you know someone’s full story from a two-hour dramatization is foolish. And trying to judge dynamics between real people whom you’ve only seen portrayed by actors is really, truly, the definition of a blind side.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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