The NFL player whose life story formed the basis of The Blind Side asked a Tennessee court on Monday to end the conservatorship with the family that raised him, alleging they never adopted him as was claimed in the hit movie.
Michael Oher’s attorneys filed a petition Monday in Shelby County probate court, claiming Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy – the couple portrayed in the film – made millions off his likeness even as Oher didn’t get any money from the film, which grossed $255 million domestically. It was based on a book of the same name.
Sean Tuohy responded on Monday, calling the allegations by Oher’s attorneys “devastating” and “insulting.” The couple did not make millions from the movie, Tuohy said.
In the film, the couple adopts Oher, who then becomes a high school and college star before being drafted into the NFL. Oher played on the offensive line in college for Mississippi and then in the NFL for three teams, including the Baltimore Ravens. Oher came out of the foster care system.
Although the film wasn’t strictly faith-based, it was embraced by the faith community thanks to its feel-good inspiring story and a script that included several religious elements.
The petition asks the court to 1) end the conservatorship; 2) prevent the couple from using his name, image and likeness; 3) require the family to pay him money from the movie that should have been his, plus interest.
Oher moved in with the Tuohys prior to his senior year, according to the petition.
“Where other parents of Michael’s classmates saw Michael simply as a nice kid in need, Conservators Sean Tuohy and Leigh Ann Tuohy saw something else: a gullible young man whose athletic talent could be exploited for their own benefit,” the petition says, according to The Commercial Appeal newspaper.
The couple never adopted Oher, even though he called them “mom” and “dad,” the petition claims.
“Almost immediately after Michael moved in, the Tuohys presented him with what he understood to be legal papers that were a necessary step in the adoption process,” the petition says. “Michael trusted the Tuohys and signed where they told him to sign. What he signed, however, and unknown to Michael until after February of 2023, were not adoption papers, or the equivalent of adoption papers. Instead, it was the petition for appointment of conservators.”
The Tuohys “enriched themselves at the expense of their ward, the undersigned Michael Oher,” the petition says.
The film was nominated for two Oscars, winning one.
Sean Tuohy told the Daily Memphian newspaper the allegations are false.
“We’re devastated,” Tuohy said, according to 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.”
The family did not make millions off the film, Tuohy said, adding, “Well, Michael Lewis 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 dispute over adoption is due to a misunderstanding about age limits, Tuohy said.
“Michael was obviously living with us for a long time, and the NCAA didn’t like that. They said the only way Michael could go to Ole Miss was if he was actually part of the family,” Tuohy said. “I sat Michael down and told him, ‘If you’re planning to go to Ole Miss — or even considering Ole Miss — we think you have to be part of the family. This would do that, legally.’ We contacted lawyers who had told us that we couldn’t adopt over the age of 18; the only thing we could do was to have a conservatorship. We were so concerned it was on the up-and-up that we made sure the biological mother came to court.”
Tuohy added, “It’s hard because you have to defend yourself, but whatever he wants, we’ll do. 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.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Streeter Lecka/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.