Retired NFL player Michael Oher was not adopted by a rich white family as depicted in the 2009 movie "The Blind Side," according to a Tennessee court filing obtained by ESPN on Monday. Instead, the family allegedly manipulated him to become more wealthy at his expense.
The petition was reportedly filed in Shelby County, Tennessee, probate court. In it, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy are accused of taking Oher into their home as a high school student under a conservatorship they tricked him into, which granted them legal authority to make business deals on his behalf.
Oher, 37, is reportedly asking the court to end the Tuohy family's conservatorship, stop them from using his name and likeness and provide a full account of their earnings from using his name. In addition to unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, he is also reportedly seeking a "fair" share of profits.
Oher: I didn't receive money from 'The Blind Side'
"The Blind Side" saw wild success from Oher's poverty-to-Super-Bowl-champ story — but the report says he didn't see any funds from the movie.
The Tuohys are also accused of using that power to negotiate a deal that made them, including their two birth children, millions of dollars in royalties from the Oscar-winning film. They began negotiating a movie deal about their relationship with Oher shortly after the 2006 release of the book "Blind Side: Evolution of the Game," according to the filing.
Members of the family were each allegedly paid $225,000, plus 2.5% of the film's "defined net proceeds." The film earned more than $300 million.
An additional 2007 contract allegedly gave 20th Century Fox Studios the rights to Oher's story without any payment, according to the filing. He alleges that he doesn't recall signing any such contract or was misled to think he was agreeing to something else.
Family's alleged lie 'devastated and wounded [Oher] deeply'
Oher was entering his senior year of high school when he signed the papers hoping to join the family he thought cared for him, an experience he detailed in his 2011 best-selling memoir "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.
He reportedly continued his life under that impression until he retired from the NFL in 2016.
The offensive tackle was drafted with the Baltimore Ravens' No. 23 overall pick in 2009 after a standout career at Ole Miss. He didn't discover the alleged lie until February of 2023, to "his chagrin and embarrassment," according to the filing.
"Mike didn't grow up with a stable family life," his attorney, J. Gerard Stranch IV said in the filing. "When the Tuohy family told Mike they loved him and wanted to adopt him, it filled a void that had been with him his entire life. Discovering that he wasn't actually adopted devastated Mike and wounded him deeply."
Beyond the alleged movie deal manipulation, the family has also used the story to promote their foundation. Meanwhile, Leigh Anne Tuohy continues to refer to Oher as her adopted son in her work as an author and motivational speaker.
Oher on 'The Blind Side' stereotypes
While Oher's learning about the alleged funds withheld and fake adoption were major blows, the filing claims that his issues with the Tuohy family began due to how he was portrayed as "unintelligent" in "The Blind Slide."
In his 2011 book, Oher, who is Black, said he played football well before the Tuohys entered his life and was knowledgeable about the sport. The film relies heavily on the idea that Leigh Anne Tuohy, played by Sandra Bullock, essentially taught him the sport through metaphors about protecting the family.
Oher also wrote that he is more outgoing and cheerful than the character presented by actor Quinton Aaron, who rarely smiled in the movie.
Even in 2015 while playing for the Carolina Panthers, Oher was clear that he didn't like the way the movie followed him throughout his career.
"I'm not trying to prove anything," Oher said via ESPN's David Newton. "People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie. They don't really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That's why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field."
His most recent book, "When Your Back's Against the Wall," was released last week. In it, he explored the paradox the film created in his life.
"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. "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."
Oher has his own foundation, which aims to empower disadvantaged youth by providing them with opportunities through higher education, mentorship and healthy living. Earlier this month, he emphasized the charity will help kids "whether they play football or not."
Seah Tuohy: ‘We’re devastated’
Sean Tuohy spoke to the Daily Memphian’s Geoff Calkins on Monday afternoon, and said he and his family are “devastated” after seeing the reports.
“It’s upsetting to think we would make money off any of our children,” Sean said. “But we’re going to love Michael at 37 just like we loved him at 16.”
Sean, who reportedly sold most of his fast-food franchises for more than $200 million, also insisted that the money they made off of “The Blind Side” was minimal and split equally.
“We didn’t make any money off the movie,” Sean said. “Well, Michael Lewis [the author of the book ‘The Blind Side’] gave us half of his share. 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. My money is well-documented; you can look up how much I sold my company for … The last thing I needed was $40,000 from a movie. I will say it’s upsetting that people would think I would want to make money off any of my children.”
As for the conservatorship, Sean said that he would “of course” be willing to end it. The only reason they did it in the first place, they claimed, was because that was the only option.
While he’s not happy to be defending himself, and he admitted that he felt a distance in their relationship with Oher about 18 months ago, Sean said they are more than willing to do whatever Oher wants.
“It’s hard because you have to defend yourself, but whatever he wants, we’ll do,” he said. “We’re not in this for anything other than whatever he wants. If he’d have said, ‘I don’t want to be part of the family anymore,’ we’d have been very upset, but we absolutely would have done it.
“No question, the allegations are insulting, but, look, it’s a crazy world. You’ve got to live in it. It’s obviously upset everybody.”