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"Blind Side" NFL Player Says Couple "Lied" About Adopting Him

Michael Oher claims Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy used him for their own financial gain.

In 2009, the movie The Blind Side purported to tell the story of professional football player Michael Oher and the Tuohy family. The drama, in which a wealthy white family takes in a poor Black high schooler who becomes a football star, was a blockbuster hit and was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Actress, which Sandra Bullock won for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy. Since its release, The Blind Side has been criticized for being a "white savior" story, but now, it seems it may also have been a rosy version of a dark truth. In a recent court filing, Oher claims that the Tuohy family never actually adopted him, though he believed they had until earlier this year.

The former NFL player says that, instead, the couple put him under a conservatorship when he was a teenager. Because of this legal arrangement, the Tuohys made money off of his name and image. Oher claims that he didn't even earn any money from The Blind Side, though it dramatized his life. Read on to find out more.

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Oher believed the Tuohys adopted him.

Roger Goodell and Michael Oher at the 2009 NFL Draft
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Oher began living with Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy when he was in high school, after he got to know the family through their children, who were his classmates. As reported by ESPN, the former NFL star says he believed that the Tuohys adopted him in 2004 when he was 18 years old and a rising high school senior. His new court filing in the Shelby County, Tennessee probate court claims that the couple instead had him sign a conservatorship agreement, which allowed them to make business deals on his behalf.

At the time, Oher was playing high school football and was already a top prospect to play in college. The now-37-year-old went on to play football at the University of Mississippi, and was later drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. He remained active in the NFL, including with the Carolina Panthers and the Tennessee Titans, until 2016.

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He learned the truth through his lawyer.

Michael Oher at SiriusXM Studios in August 2023
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

According to the ESPN report, Oher's lawyer, J. Gerard Stranch IV, said that the football player did not fully research his situation with the Tuohys until he left the NFL and hired legal representation. In February of this year, his lawyer found out about the conservatorship, at which point Oher realized that he had not been adopted, as he was led to believe.

As reported by People, the court documents read, "Michael trusted the Tuohys and signed where they told him to sign. What he signed, however, and unknown to Michael until after February 2023, were not adoption papers, or the equivalent of adoption papers."

ESPN reports that Oher touched on the situation in his 2011 book, I Beat the Odds. "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," he wrote.

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He wants the money they made from his career to be returned.

Sandra Bullock and Leigh Anne Tuohy at "The Blind Side" benefit premiere in 2009
Skip Bolen/WireImage via Getty Images

Oher claims that the Tuohys used both the conservatorship and their alleged manipulation of him to their financial advantage. The court documents state that the Tuohys and their two children, Sean Jr. and Collins Tuohy, received millions of dollars in royalties from The Blind Side, while Oher received nothing. (Quinton Aaron played him in the film.) The documents also claim that the Tuohys used their connection to Oher to promote their foundation and Leigh Anne's career as a writer and motivational speaker.

Oher is asking the court to end the conservatorship, for the Tuohys to stop using his name and likeness, and for accounting to be done when it comes to the wealth Tuohys have amassed through the conservatorship. Oher also wants them to return the money that he is owed.

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Members of the Tuohy family have responded.

Collins Tuohy, Sean Tuohy Jr. Leigh Anne Tuohy and Sean Tuohy at the premiere of "The Blind Side" in 2009
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Sean spoke out regarding Oher's court filing. He told the Daily Memphian (via E! News), "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." He added that the family is "devastated" by the claims.

Regarding the financial benefits of The Blind Side, he said, "Everybody in the family got an equal share, including Michael. It was about $14,000, each. We were never offered money; we never asked for money … I will say it's upsetting that people would think I would want to make money off any of my children."

Sean also claimed that his family and Oher signed the conservatorship documents because of requirements from the NCAA. "They said the only way Michael could go to Ole Miss was if he was actually part of the family," Sean told the Daily Memphian. "I sat Michael down and told him, 'If you're planning to go to Ole Miss—or even considering Ole Miss—we think you have to be part of the family. This would do that, legally.' 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."

Sean also said that he was willing to end the conservatorship.

Sean Jr. told Barstool Sports that he "completely understands" why Oher is upset, because the movie made $300 million and he didn't profit from it. But, he also denied that he made millions from the movie himself.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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