‘Blind Side’ legal battle: Tuohys accuse Michael Oher of “shakedown,” call lawsuit “absurd”

The seemingly inspirational true story behind the hit film The Blind Side has turned into an ugly legal battle.

Former NFL defensive lineman Michael Oher was taken in by the wealthy Tuohy family as an impoverished teenager, a story that served as the basis for the Oscar-winning film The Blind Side and the book of the same name.

But on Monday, Oher revealed that he had never actually been adopted by the Tuohys, and in a 14-page petition accused the couple of using him for their own enrichment, claiming they made millions off The Blind Side while he got nothing.

CHARLOTTE, NC – JANUARY 24: Michael Oher #73 of the Carolina Panthers watches play against the Arizona Cardinals during the NFC Championship Game at Bank Of America Stadium on January 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the Tuohy family responded, accusing Oher of a “shakedown” and of fabricating the allegations against them.

“The Tuohys opened their home to Mr. Oher, offered him structure, support and, most of all, unconditional love,” a statement from the Tuohys lawyer Marty Singer reads, per the Hollywood Reporter. “They have consistently treated him like a son and one of their three children. His response was to threaten them, including saying that he would plant a negative story about them in the press unless they paid him $15 million.”

In his petition, Oher claimed that he learned in February that he was not adopted by the Tuohys, as they have claimed and is depicted in The Blind Side. Instead, he had agreed to a conservatorship that “provided him no familial relationship” to the family but gave the Tuohys authority over his financial affairs.

OXFORD, MS – NOVEMBER 28: Michael Oher #74 of the Ole Miss Rebels stands with his family during senior ceremonies prior to a game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 28, 2008 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images)

Oher accused the Tuohys of misleading him as a youth and using him for their own enrichment. He accused the family of making millions from royalties from The Blind Side while he made nothing. Leigh Anne Tuohy, portrayed by Sandra Bullock in the film, launched a career as an author and inspirational speaker off her association with Oher.

Oher had previously taken issue with how he was depicted in The Blind Side, saying the film made him look unintelligent and misrepresented his knowledge of football as a teenager.

“Mike’s relationship with the Tuohy family started to decline when he discovered that he was portrayed in the movie as unintelligent,” Oher’s lawyer 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.”

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In response to Oher’s petition, the family denied wrongdoing and said “always been upfront about how a conservatorship was established to assist with Mr. Oher’s needs, ranging from getting him health insurance and obtaining a driver’s license to helping with college admissions.”

“Should Mr. Oher wish to terminate the conservatorship, either now or at anytime in the future, the Tuohys will never oppose it in any way,” Singer says.

They also denied enriching themselves off Oher’s story while leaving him with nothing, claiming they “insisted that any money received be divided equally” and offered Oher “an equal cut of every penny.”

According to AP, the Tuohys say that Oher’s claims that they tried to profit off of him are “not only offensive” but “transparently ridiculous” because the family is already worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

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Separate from the legal statement, Sean Tuohy responded to Oher’s allegations, calling them “insulting.”

“We’re devastated,” he told the Daily Memphian. “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.”

“It’s upsetting, but it’s life, what are you going to do? Certain people will believe us and certain people won’t.”

For his part, Michael Oher has asked for privacy and said he would let the lawsuit speak for itself.

“I am disheartened by the revelation shared in the lawsuit today,” Michael said in a statement to E! News through his attorney. “This is a difficult situation for my family and me. I want to ask everyone to please respect our privacy at this time. For now, I will let the lawsuit speak for itself and will offer no further comment.”

The legal fight has been a bombshell for fans of The Blind Side, which earned over $300 million at the box office, received a nomination for Best Picture and has remained a popular, inspirational sports drama. Oher’s allegations have soured many people on the film, with some joking that Sandra Bullock should return the Best Actress Oscar she won for playing Leigh Anne Tuohy.

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While generally well received by critics and audiences, The Blind Side has long been accused of having a “white savior” narrative that depicts Oher as helpless and unintelligent. One scene depicts Leigh Anne Tuohy teaching Oher basic fundamentals of football defense using metaphors about family, but in real life Oher was a rising football star by the time he was taken in by the family.

“I’ve been studying—really studying—the game since I was a kid!” Oher wrote in his memoir  Beat The Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond. “I felt like it [the movie] portrayed me as dumb instead of as a kid who had never had consistent academic instruction and ended up thriving once he got it.”

It’s heartbreaking that the seemingly inspiring true story behind The Blind Side turned out to be a lot more complicated than it appeared and has led to such an ugly legal battle.

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