On Monday, Michael Oher—a retired NFL star and the subject of the 2009 film The Blind Side—filed a 14-page petition to a probate court in Shelby County, Tenn. The petition contains allegations that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy—the parents of the wealthy, white family that purportedly adopted Oher as a high school student—never actually did so. Rather, they deceived him into signing a document that placed him in a conservatorship, without his realization. They were then able to make millions at his expense.
"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," reads the legal filing. "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."
"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," continues the filing. "All monies made in said manner should in all conscience and equity be disgorged and paid over to the said ward, Michael Oher."
A representative for Leigh Anne Tuohy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. Steve Farese, a lawyer representing the Tuohys, told the Associated Press they plan to file an answer to the allegations in court.
“We’re devastated,” Sean Tuohy told the Daily Memphian on Monday afternoon. “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.”
In 2006, author and financial journalist Michael Lewis, a former schoolmate of Sean Tuohy, published The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which includes Oher’s story. Three years later, Lewis’ book was adapted into a sports drama film of the same name. The movie told the story of an offensive lineman who overcame a poor upbringing to, with the help of his adoptive parents, to play in the NFL.
Both the movie and the book found critical and financial success. The former became a #1 New York Times bestseller, while the latter grossed $309 million at the box office, received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Sandra Bullock’s performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy, Oher’s supposed adoptive mother.
“Mike's relationship with the Tuohy family started to decline when he discovered that he was portrayed in the movie as unintelligent,” Oher’s attorney, J. Gerard Stranch IV, told ESPN. "Their relationship continued to deteriorate as he learned that he was the only member of the family not receiving royalty checks from the movie, and it was permanently fractured when he realized he wasn't adopted and a part of the family.”
Speaking with the Daily Memphian, Tuohy claimed that the family didn't directly make any money off the movie. Rather, Tuohy said, Lewis gave the Tuohys half of what he made, which was then divided evenly among the family members, including Oher.
Tuohy said that despite the fact that Tennessee law does allow for "adult adoption," he had been advised that the family's only option past the age of 18 was to bring Oher into the family via a conservatorship. That way, Oher would have a better shot at applying to Ole Miss, since Tuohy was a point guard there.
The legal filing states that the Tuohys and their two biological children, Sean and Collins, were each paid $225,000 by the movie, on top of 2.5% of the film's net proceeds. In a separate contract, according to the legal filing, Oher signed over the rights to his story without any payment. Oher says that he does not remember signing that contract, and that if he did, no one explained what it meant.
Oher’s second book, When Your Back's Against the Wall, was released last week. “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," he wrote in it. "Beyond the details of the deal, the politics, and the money behind the book and movie, it was the principle of the choices some people made that cut me the deepest."
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