Michael Oher alleges that ‘Blind Side’ adoption story was a lie, files petition against Tuohy family

Many people were inspired by the 2009 sports film The Blind Side, the story of Leigh Anne Tuohy’s adoption of future NFL offensive tackle Michael Oher, helping him go from impoverished, struggling youth to professional athlete.

But now there has been a surprising twist in this purportedly true story: Oher is now taking the Tuohys to court, alleging that the adoption was a lie and that the couple used him for their own enrichment.

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)

Oher alleges adoption was a lie

According to ESPN, Oher, who played for the NFL for eight seasons, filed a 14-page petition in Shelby County, Tennessee probate court alleging that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy never adopted him as they have long claimed.

The couple took Oher in when he was in high school, but Oher alleges that the couple tricked him into signing a document to make them his conservators three months before he turned 18, giving them legal authority to make business deals in his name.

The Tuohys have long claimed that they legally adopted Oher: it’s a central plotline in The Blind Side and the real-life Leigh Anne Tuohy, a businesswoman and interior designer, has referred to Oher as her son.

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)

But according to the filing, Oher recently learned that the adoption was a lie, and says the couple only had him sign a document for their own enrichment.

“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 says, per 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.”

Oher says he was told that the conservatorship meant the same thing as being adopted, however it gave the Tuohys authority over his financial affairs without ever making him a legal member of their family. Leigh Anne Tuohy has used her association with Oher as the basis for her career as an author and motivational speaker, and the family reportedly made millions off The Blind Side.

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The petition asks the court to end the Tuohys conservatorship, bar the family from using his name and likeness, and having them pay Oher a share of the profits they made off of him in addition to compensatory and punitive damages.

The Blind Side

The story of Oher’s “adoption” by the Tuohys, a wealthy white family, was the basis for the 2006 Michael Lewis book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which was adapted into the 2009 film The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy.

The film was well-received, earning over $300 million at the box office and won Bullock the Academy Award for Best Actress; the film was also nominated for Best Picture. But some critics took issue with the film’s “white savior” narrative, saying the film depicted Oher as unintelligent and helpless without the Tuohys.

Oher has also taken issue with the film: while at the time he credited the Tuohys for helping him out, he said the film oversimplified his story.

“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,” Oher wrote in his memoir  Beat The Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond.

Oher also disputed the film’s depiction of football knowledge. In the film, Leigh Anne Tuohy is depicted as teaching Oher to play defense using metaphors about protecting his new family, however, Oher was already a rising football star when the couple took him in and already possessed a deep understanding of the game.

“That’s not me at all!” Oher wrote. “I’ve been studying—really studying—the game since I was a kid!” Oher later accused The Blind Side of damaging his sports career.

The Blind Side is also a subject in Oher’s filing: he says that the Tuohys, using their power of conservatorship, made millions of dollars in royalties off the hit film while he received nothing.

“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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Oher played football with the University of Mississippi (the Tuohy’s alma mater) and went on to become a first-round draft pick with the Baltimore Ravens; he later played with the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers.

Many people love The Blind Side as an inspiring sports film, however it’s becoming clear that the real-life story is a lot more complicated.

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