Michael Oher, the former NFL left tackle drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the 2009 draft and the subject around the hit movie "The Blind Side," petitioned a Tennessee court on Monday with allegations that the movie portrayed lies about the actual situation concocted by the Tuohy family to further enrich themselves, according to ESPN.
Filed in Shelby County, Tennessee, the 14-page petition alleges that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy never formally adopted Oher when he was a high school student. Instead, Oher's claim states that less than three months before he turned 18 in 2004, the family tricked him into a signing a conservatorship that ultimately gave them legal authority over all of his business dealings.
Michael Oher, whose supposed adoption out of poverty was immortalized in the 2009 movie ?The Blind Side,? petitioned a Tennessee court Monday with allegations that the story was a lie concocted by the family to enrich themselves, via @Fletchpost.https://t.co/rdpyorYjof
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 14, 2023
Further, the petition claims the Tuohys used that power to make a deal for the movie that netted them and their two biological children royalties totaling $225,000 each, plus 2.5% of the film's "defined net proceeds." The movie reportedly grossed $300 million at the box office for a story that "would not have existed without him."
Since then, and even to this day, Leigh Anne Tuohy continues to use that narrative for Oher, now 37, to promote her foundation, authorship and motivational speaking engagements, the lawsuit contends.
"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 states. "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."
The Tuohys have not commented as of this writing.
The petition also urges the court to end their conservatorship and issue an injunction to bar them from using his name and likeness to promote things, take full accounting of all the money they've earned while using his name, share the profits, and pay punitive damages.
"Since at least August of 2004, Conservators have allowed Michael, specifically, and the public, generally, to believe that Conservators adopted Michael and have used that untruth to gain financial advantages for themselves and the foundations which they own or which they exercise control," the petition says. "All monies made in said manner should in all conscience and equity be disgorged and paid over to the said ward, Michael Oher."
According to Oher, the Tuohys told him during his rise as a high school senior that there wasn't a difference between adoption and conservatorship.
"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," Oher wrote in his 2011 bestselling memoir, "I Beat the Odds."
Of course, there are legal differences. For example, if adopted, Oher would have been a legal family member and would be able to control his financial affairs. Instead, with the conservatorship, he didn't, even as a fully functioning adult.
We also learn from the filings that the Tuohys began negotiating the movie deal shortly after the release of the 2006 book "Blind Side: Evolution of the Game."
The movie went on to be a massive hit, bringing in millions more in home sales on top of box office money. It received a nomination for Best Picture; and actress Sandra Bullock, who played Leigh Anne, won Best Actress. Not only did they profit off the film, the petition states, but another contract from 2007 that Oher signed "gave away" his rights to his story to 20th Century Fox Studios "without any payment whatsoever."
Oher states he doesn't remember signing it or, if he did, he was not educated on the implications.
Within the deal, it shows all four Tuohy family members have representation from Creative Artists Agency. However, Oher's agent, who received the movie contract and payment notices, has it listed as a woman named Debra Branan, who's a close friend to the family and is the same person who is reported to have filed the conservatorship in 2004. Branan also hasn't commented at the time of this writing.
Prior to this, the Tuohys stated that while they received a flat fee, they didn't make a lot of money off the the film and that all residuals were shared with Oher. "We divided it five ways," the Tuohys wrote in their 2010 book, "In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving."
However, Oher says that's not true and that when he has asked questions, they were never answered.
The timing of all of this was around Oher getting drafted, so his attention was taken from it until he retired and had more time to examine it in 2016, according to his attorney, J. Gerard Stranch IV.
According to Stranch, he came upon the conservatorship in February 2023 and that Oher was devastated to learn he wasn't actually adopted.
"Mike didn't grow up with a stable family life. 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," Stranch said. "Discovering that he wasn't actually adopted devastated Mike and wounded him deeply."
Should the petition prove to be true, it would show that's it not the inspiring story that the movie portrays. In the movie, Oher is an abandoned kid with nowhere to go, has an absent father, and has a mother who faces her own drug issues. Then, Oher spends time with the Tuohys, who ultimately decide to take him in and help him get on track to live a fulfilling life.
Many of the elements of the movie remain true, but after the success of the movie, Oher's trust slowly deteriorated.
"Mike's relationship with the Tuohy family started to decline when he discovered that he was portrayed in the movie as unintelligent," Stranch said. "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."
Oher also mentions how the film negatively impacted him, including fellow teammates or decision-makers in the NFL because they viewed him as being developmentally slow or lacking leadership qualities.
"People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie," Oher told ESPN in 2015. "They don't really see the skills and the kind of player I am."
To be fair to the Tuohys, they did say they knew Oher had what it took to succeed.
"If there is a fundamental misapprehension about Michael, it's that he needed saving," the Tuohys wrote in their book. "We discovered that underneath his shyness, his foot shuffling, and his head ducking, he had a tremendous will to determine the course of his own life."
Oher said that for years, he was OK living with the myth because the message outweighed his own pain, but that has changed.
"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," Oher wrote in his book, "When Your Back's Against the Wall," released last week.
"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."
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