The feel-good story behind the 2009 blockbuster film The Blind Side was all a lie, retired NFL offensive lineman Michael Oher has alleged in a lawsuit filed in Shelby County, Tennessee.
Oher, now 37, was the subject of the movie, about a well-to-do white family that adopted a Black teenager and gave him the stable home he craved. The lawsuit filed on Monday said he never was legally adopted by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, and, in fact, was tricked into agreeing to making them his conservators.
As a result, he said, the Tuohys made business deals that put money into bank accounts of the couple and their two now-adult birth children and shut out Oher.
Oher went to live with the family when he was in high school, and in 2004, after he turned 18, unwittingly signed the conservatorship document, according to the court paperwork.
“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 legal filing reads, according to a report by ESPN.
“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.”
In his petition, Oher is seeking to end the Tuohys’ conservatorship and to bar them from using his name and likeness. He also wants an accounting of what the Tuohys have earned using his name and then his share of the profits and unspecified damages.
Steve Farese, a lawyer for the Tuohys, told The Associated Press they will file an answer to the allegations in court but declined to comment further. He was among three lawyers served on behalf of the Tuohys on Monday.
Sean Tuohy told The Daily Memphian that the conservatorship was done to satisfy the NCAA as Oher considered Tuohy’s alma mater Mississippi for college and said he and his wife would end the conservatorship if that’s what Oher wants.
“We’re devastated,” Tuohy said. “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.”
A book based on Oher’s life was released in September 2006. The author, Michael Lewis, was described in the petition as a childhood friend of Sean Tuohy’s. The petition alleges Oher’s conservators began contract negotiations for the movie rights.
The petition alleges a deal was reached to pay the Tuohys, plus children Sean Jr and Collins, $225,000 plus 2.5 percent of future defined net proceeds hinging on Oher’s signature. A contract titled “Life Story Rights Agreement” was “purportedly signed by Michael Oher” and dated April 20, 2007, according to the petition.
The petition says Oher believes the signature is similar to his own but that he “at no time ever willingly or knowingly signed this document and that nobody ever presented this contract to him with any explanation that he was signing such a document”.
Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side, which also was nominated for Best Picture. According to Box Office Mojo, the movie brought in $309m worldwide, and the court filing says Oher received no compensation for a film “that would not have existed without him”.
Oher was the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Mississippi, and he spent his first five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, where he started 110 games and won a Super Bowl.
He wound up playing eight NFL seasons, including 2014 when he started 11 games for the Tennessee Titans. Oher finished his career with two years in Carolina. Oher last played in 2016 and was released the following year by Carolina.
Nearly two years ago, supporters cheered when pop star Britney Spears was freed from her conservatorship. The ruling came after Spears publicly demanded the end of the arrangement, which had prevented her from making her own medical, financial and personal decisions since 2008.
Spears’ high-profile battle put a spotlight on efforts that advocates across the United States have launched raising questions that such strict controls result in more harm than protection.