The True Story Behind The “Blind Side”
Michael Oher was just 16 years old when his life changed forever. He went from living with a drug-addicted mother to becoming a professional football player in the span of a few years. Michael has one special family and a few others to thank for propelling him towards the life he lives today.
His story was documented in the Oscar-winning film “The Blind Side,” and while the film got many things right, it also got a few things wrong — and there’s a major reason why Michael himself doesn’t like the movie.
Audiences Loved The Film
The 2009 movie “The Blind Side” starred Quinton Aaron as Michael “Big Mike” Oher, a high school student at Briarcrest Christian School who was rescued from poverty and taken in by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw). Big Mike became a highly sought-after prospect in college football and wound up playing for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
The film was based on the 2006 book, “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” by Michael Lewis and was written and directed by John Lee Hancock. The movie made $300 million at the box office, and Bullock won an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for her role.
The Physical Differences Are Obvious
Sandra Bullock went blonde for the role of Leigh Anne Tuohy to make it more realistic. Her character’s children, Sean “S.J.” and Collins, were played by actors Jae Head and Lily Collins.
One of the criticisms was that Michael and S.J. looked quite different on the big screen than they did in real life. S.J., in particular, was portrayed as a very tiny child, but in photos shown at the end of the film, it’s obvious that S.J. wasn’t small at all. In fact, today he is six-feet tall! Michael, while large in real life, is much more fit and muscular than the actor who portrayed him on the big screen.
It Wasn’t Quite As Simple For Michael To Enroll In High School
In the film, Michael had a very spotty academic career with a lot of holes, but somehow the coach at Briarcrest used a religious angle to persuade his colleagues to allow the young man to enroll at the school.
The teachers were not impressed with Michael’s initial performance and silent nature, but before long they realized that he wasn’t dumb and mute. In reality, coach Burt Cotton (played by Ray McKinnon) did convince administrators to accept Michael into the program; however, the principal decided that Michael would require several months of homeschooling before he could matriculate into the high school.
Sean Didn’t Notice Michael At A Volleyball Game
In the film, Sean Tuohy meets Michael for the first time following one of his daughter Collins’ volleyball games. Sean notices Michael picking up people’s abandoned popcorn bags in the stands. Sean approaches the young man and introduces himself. It’s the last time they see each other until Thanksgiving.
But in real life, Sean heard about Michael through his daughter. That prompted Sean to go to Briarcrest where he created a lunch account for the young man to make sure he could eat something every day. Michael’s welfare was a concern for the Tuohys from day one.
Leigh Anne Didn’t Invite Michael To Stay At Their Home So Quickly
When the Tuohys saw Michael walking on the side of the road in the film, it was pouring rain and the young man was wandering around at night in shorts and a t-shirt. Leigh Anne was so disturbed by his circumstances that she immediately invited him home so he could spend the night.
In actuality, the Tuohys did meet Michael on the road during Thanksgiving break. However, it was morning and Leigh Anne did not persuade him to come to their house. Leigh Anne did drive to Briarcrest later that day and took the young man shopping for some clothing.
Michael Stayed With Several Families Before Choosing The Tuohys
Michael didn’t elect to stay with the Tuohys until several months after he encountered them during Thanksgiving break. He lived with a mechanic named Tony Henderson (a.k.a. Big Tony) for a while. Michael also lived with at least five other families when his coaches found out he was homeless.
Sean Tuohy told 20/20: “He’d stay here once in awhile and then he’d leave, and then he seemed more comfortable to stay.” The real Michael said, “When I moved in with Leigh Anne and Sean, I felt loved, like part of a family. In the other houses, I didn’t feel like part of the family. I didn’t feel like they wanted me there.”
Michael Was Not Timid
In the film, Michael isn’t very aggressive and is quite timid, and Leigh Anne had to inspire the young man to play harder by telling him his team was like his family, which he needed to protect.
But Michael already knew how to be aggressive. And S.J., who was eight years old when he met Michael, was not responsible for teaching him how to play the game. Michael told 20/20: “I’ve always had that fire and passion in me on the field. You can’t put aggression into a person. It’s impossible. Either you have that toughness and aggression or you don’t.”
The Family Really Did Connect With Michael Almost Immediately
The movie makes it appear as though Michael easily joined the Tuohys in their family home without any complications. S.J. is thrilled to have a new brother, and Collins ignores what her classmates say about their new housemate. Sean and Leigh Anne simply give Michael a big hug, and adoption is inevitable.
In real life, the media reported that the Tuohys welcomed Michael with open arms and embraced him as one of the family. S.J. later referred to him as his best friend, and Collins later admitted the pair became close both in high school and at Ole Miss where they both went to college.
Collins Switched Classes To Help Michael With His Work
The real Collins later recalled: “My friends were very open to Michael. They were very sweet to him and we all got along really well.” In fact, Collins offered, even more, support to Michael than is presented on the big screen. She was an honor student who rearranged her schedule to assist the young man.
She even transferred into several of his classes so they would have the same assignments and she could help him with homework. “That was the most studying I’d ever done in my life,” Collins told 20/20. She says being seen with Michael was never a problem at school.
Michael Was Thrilled To Graduate From High School and Go To College
Michael told 20/20 that he was thrilled to graduate from high school: “It was unbelievable, just to walk across the stage and shake the president’s hand. I was the first one out of anybody that I ever knew to graduate, so it was a great experience.” He chose to attend Ole Miss because it was nearby the Tuohy’s home.
He later explained: “I figured it would be easier for my family, you know, my friends to get down to Oxford to come see me play.” Michael received more than 1,000 letters from recruiters to attend their schools.
Michael Did Write The “White Walls” Essay
In the film, a teacher reads an essay written by Michael. In actuality, Michael penned the essay during his senior year. Michael’s wrote in part: “I look and I see white everywhere: white walls, white floors, and a lot of white people…. The teachers are not aware that I have no idea of anything they are talking about.
I do not want to listen to anyone, especially the teachers. They are giving homework and expecting me to do the problems on my own. I’ve never done homework in my life. I go to the bathroom, look in the mirror, and say, “This is not Mike Oher. I want to get out of this place.”
Leigh Anne’s Family Was Racist
Racial issues are brushed over in the film and mentioned only occasionally. At one point, a player taunts Michael during a football game. Race is not a problem in the Tuohy home until Sean confesses that it’s strange for him to have a “black son” before having a Democrat as an acquaintance.
The book points out that Leigh Anne was raised by a racist family. She is not sure when or how her views about race change, but obviously at some point, the color lines blur. She also later said, “I married a man who doesn’t know his own color.”
Michael’s Mother Was Indeed A Drug Addict
In the film, Michael’s mother, Denise Oher, is depicted as being addicted to crack cocaine. The real-life Michael later revealed in an interview with 20/20: “She wasn’t really around too much. I took care of myself most of the time.” Michael was one of 12 children raised in a housing project known as Hurt Village in a crime-infested area of North Memphis.
In 2013, Denise told WMC Action News 5: “That addiction is very hard to just stop. You have to work on it. You have to pray and you have to be committed to it and you have you want to change your life from that.”
Michael’s Birth Father Really Was Murdered
Just as it was revealed in the film, Michael’s biological father was murdered. He was not around when Michael was growing up, so he really didn’t know much about his son. Michael’s father was shot and killed, and his body was thrown over an overpass in Memphis. Michael didn’t learn about his father’s death for three months, in part because it took a while to identify his body.
A man named Tony Henderson, who helped Michael get admitted to high school, informed the school that the man had died, according to the book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.”
Michael Was A Better Football Player Than They Depicted On Film
During an interview with the Sioux City Journal, Leigh Anne said she was amazed at how quickly the book had been turned into a film. She explained: “It was a fast-track for a major motion picture.
And we didn’t understand why there was all this fuss. People all over the country were doing far greater things than we were, but it happened. It was all so quirky and unprecedented, I don’t think it was an accident. It was God-driven.” She added that the script was “fairly accurate for Hollywood. Michael was a better football player than they showed but the fact that they didn’t screw things up was a miracle.”
Michael’s Coach Was Not So “Goofy”
In the film, Coach Cotton represented Hugh Freeze. Cotton played a bumbling character who needed help from Leigh Anne to motivate Michael. In reality, Freeze is very accomplished. He went from coaching high school football to leading the third-ranked college football program in the US.
He said: “I sure hope I’m not as goofy as this guy—that was my reaction. I don’t think I needed so much guidance in coaching, but at the end of the day, the movie is about a young man who receives a chance and a family who puts their faith into action. It changed a person’s trajectory in life.”
Other Details Were Changed, But The Car Accident Was Exactly The Same
Several other minor things in the film were altered from real life. Collins Tuohy didn’t play volleyball and was actually a champion pole vaulter. Collins was also in the same grade as Michael. As for the car accident, the crash happened on a different street. In the scene, Michael stops an airbag from hitting S.J., thus preventing serious injuries. Well, that actually happened.
Sean Tuohy later told NewsOK: “That’s 100 percent accurate. The car behind them was someone from the basketball team. Someone witnessed that. The overall theme and concept was dead on, more accurate than Hollywood usually does.”
The Film Negatively Impacted Michael’s Career
Michael became an All-America left tackle, and in 2009 was a first-round draft pick by the Ravens. But the film affected how others view him. In 2015, Michael told ESPN: “I’m not trying to prove anything. People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie.
They don’t really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That’s why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field. This stuff, calling me a bust, people saying if I can play or not … that has nothing to do with football. It’s something else off the field. That’s why I don’t like that movie.”
Michael Was Released From The Panthers Over Health Concerns
Michael played with the Baltimore Ravens for five years. He was with the Tennessee Titans before moving on to the Panthers. In July 2017, the veteran offensive tackle was released with a failed physical designation. His coach Ron Rivera said: “The most important thing is his health.
Our only concern is him getting healthy. Michael’s health always came first. We were not going to force the issue. Michael understood and we expressed that to him.” Michael struggled to recover from a concussion he received the previous season. Michael tweeted in July: “The Brain is a scary thing. You have to be careful with it.”
Leigh Anne Used Her Fame To Inform Others
In 2015, Leigh Anne explained how the film was still impacting her life. “We’re five years removed from the movie and nothing has died down,” she told the Sioux City Journal. She showed off her interior design skills on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and gave several speeches in the United States about topics including racism and adoption.
She noted: “It’s mind-boggling. We realize we do have a mission. We have the opportunity to change lives. If that sounds narcissistic, screw it. Racism is alive and well in this country; we have to learn how to love someone who doesn’t look like us.”
Oher Set The Record Straight With A Highly-Praised Autobiography
Michael Oher wasn’t 100% pleased with the way the movie portrayed him and he set out to explain what really happened in his autobiography, “I Beat The Odds: From Homelessness To The Blindside.” The book, which speaks directly to the NFL player’s personal struggles growing up, became a New York Times bestseller. Amazon reviewers have even given his work a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating.
The Washington Post heaped praise on the book, proclaiming, “With the release of his memoir…Oher finally takes ownership, filling the gaps in the familiar narrative and somehow managing to make his journey from the streets to stardom seem even more amazing and compelling…”
The Film Did Manage To Bring Some Real-Life People Into The Mix
“The Blind Side” may not have gotten every fact right but the movie’s producers did manage to bring some real-life college coaches into the mix. The guys visiting Michael Oher in the hopes of landing him on their teams? Those were the real men who tried to woo the star football player to their programs.
The real-life coaches include former Notre Dame and South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, former LSU coach Nick Saban, former Arkansas and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, and former-Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron. They were also good sports considering they all missed out to Orgeron and Ole Miss.
Leigh Anne Really Did Have To Defend Oher Against Her Friends
In the movie, Leigh Anne Touhy’s (Sandra Bullock) friends start to ask her some very intrusive questions about Oher. In Michael Lewis’ book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, she explained what really occurred, “We knew people were going to have issues because we had a daughter exactly the same age.” It turns out questions were raised all throughout town, including shops, restaurants and school events.
The rudest of people asked her how she handled Michael’s sexual urges as a teenage boy living under the same roof as her daughter. She eventually started handing out a single piece of advice to people who confronted her: “You just need to mind your own business. You worry about your own life and I’ll worry about mine.”
Sandra Bullock Became Friends With The Family And Oher
While Oher may not have loved the way “The Blind Side” portrayed his very personal story, he doesn’t hold any hard feelings towards the actors who were just playing their parts. In fact, Sandra Bullock reportedly became friends with both Oher and the Tuohy family.
When given the chance, the actress has even attended Michael’s games and shares that time with the Tuohy family. Bullock won an Oscar for her role, and apparently, it touched her in a special way that allowed for lifetime friendships to be formed after the movie debuted. In February 2013, when the Baltimore Ravens made the Super Bowl, Bullock was there to cheer on Michael and his team.
Gang Members Never Taunted Leigh Anne Touhy
In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, Micahel Oher tells Mrs. Touhy to stay in the car when he runs an errand in Hurt Village, the ghetto where he grew up. As she waits for him to arrive, gang members taunt her for being in their less than desired neighborhood. In reality, she was never approached in that manner.
Alton, the main gang leader, however, is a loose depiction of Delvin Lane, a real leader of the local criminals. In reality, Michael’s best friend is Craig Vail, the one person Oher could always trust in the neighborhood and who never asked for anything.
Michael Really Did Inspire Family Dinner Time
In “The Blind Side,” Michael Oher convinces his new family to sit with him at the dinner table. In real life, it happened on a regular basis because of his requests to eat together. Sean Tuohy joked in a 20/20 interview: “He made us sit around the dinner table. If we were going to spend time with him, we’d come eat at the table. We haven’t eaten at the table since he left.”
While Hollywood has a tendency to pour on the emotional impact, it turns out Oher really was just a guy who finally found the family he always wanted and he chose to celebrate that fact with his new family whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Michael Really Was Adopted
When Michael first started sleeping at the Touhy’s household there were moments when he would retreat to his old neighborhood. As we previously noted, he eventually gave his full trust to the family and started staying permanently at their home. Eventually, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy adopted Oher, officially making him part of the family.
When appearing on “The Today Show,” Leigh Anne perfectly summed up the relationship she developed with her adopted son. “I love Michael Oher as much as I love my two biological children. There’s no difference in them.” While the movie got some stuff wrong, the love they shared as a group was dead on.
Oher Really Was Featured In The Family’s Christmas Card, And It Confused People
In “The Blind Side,” Michael stands with his new family as they take a photo for their annual Christmas card. It turns out he really was part of that experience, although it only featured the family’s kids and not the adults. Leigh Anne later revealed that her cousin actually called her to ask her about the photo.
“He said, ‘I’m not trying to be rude or anything. Who’s the black boy in the Christmas card?'” It might not have been the most direct way to tell their family and friends about their new family member but it’s definitely a memorable approach.
The Touhys Really Do Own Dozens Of Taco Bell Restaurants And Other Chains!
In the movie, Michael Oher quickly learns that he has access to eat at dozens of Taco Bell franchises owned by Sean Touhy. In real life, Touhy really is one of three partners who own and operate RGT Management. His company operates more than 80 Taco Bell’s, Long John Silver’s, KeFried Friend Chicken, and Off The Grill locations.
His business ventures are spread throughout Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri. The movie, which debuted in 2010, didn’t touch on his other job as a sports commentator for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and a broadcast analyst for radio programs at Ole Miss.
The Movie Ignored The Fact That Oher Was A Basketball Star
When you spend millions of dollars advertising a coming of age football story there’s good reason to ignore anything having to do with other pursuits of the main character. In real life, Michael Oher wasn’t 100% focused only on football. Oher was a star basketball player and runner-up for high school player of the year in Tennessee.
He may have been portrayed as a quiet and timid young man in the movie but in reality, he was a star athlete who outshone his fellow teammates. Michael chose to pursue football at Ole Miss but many doors would have opened up for him if he had decided on basketball instead.
S.J. Really Did “Work Over” The College Recruiters
The movie’s most hilarious scenes occur when a young S.J. Touhy asked a college recruiter, “what’s in it for me.” When asked about that famous scene S.J. joked, “I don’t know if it’s quite like that… I think Jay [John Lee Hancock] might have pulled me off better than I pull myself off.”
S.J.’s parents interjected, “He worked those coaches pretty hard.” S.J. might not have walked away with any scholarships of his own but he did get a private tour through The Grove (a popular campus tailgating spot) from Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron. Apparently, his own negotiating skills were not as tough as his movie character.
His High School Tutor Really Did Follow Him To College
At the very end of “The Blind Side,” Michael’s tutor, Miss Sue (Kathy Bates), is shown on his college campus making a comment about moving her things into an apartment nearby. In real life, Sue Mitchell continued to work with Michael Oher, ensuring that his accelerated education would continue.
Oher was a D and F student when he started attending Briarcrest but finished his high school year with A’s and B’s. He still had some catching up to accomplish when he enrolled at Ole Miss and his new adopted parents had the means to help him succeed off the field.
Oher Is An Extrovert With A “Wicked” Sense Of Humor
We’ve talked about how Michael Oher wasn’t really timid on the high school football field when he was getting his start but what about off the field? His teammates have praised Oher for his fun-loving nature and his love of life.
Many of his fellow athletes have told reporters that he is a really funny guy who can hold a conversation without any signs of being shy. In his own New York Times best-selling autobiography, his humor makes a few enjoyable appearances, proving that he’s not just the lovable oaf that is portrayed throughout “The Blind Side.” Apparently, a clueless teen from a poor black area was an easier sell for the movie’s producers.
Oher’s Grades Were A Bigger Controversy Than The Movie Explained
Toward the end of “The Blind Side” it’s revealed that Micheel Oher needed a 2.5 GPA (grade point average) to get into a NCAA Division I school. Leigh Anne announces that he has achieved a 2.52 GPA while attending his high school graduation ceremony.
In reality, Oher needed a 2.65 GPA and he only received those marks after attending a BYU program. The controversial program allowed him to take a bunch of 10-day courses with very simple tests which then replaced D’s and F’s from his freshman through junior years with A’s. The NCAA investigated the grade swapping practice but ultimately didn’t find any wrongdoing on Oher’s part.
Oher Wasn’t A “Dumb” Kid Or Teenager
Michael Oher may have been failing out of high school before he met the Touhy’s but it had nothing to do with his level of intelligence. In his autobiography, Oher says 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.” He’s not sure why the film’s director felt the need to use very basic visuals when explaining football to his character, such as a ketchup bottle for player positions on the field.
In reality, Oher was a student of football’s intricacies since he was very young. Oher did graduate from college before joining the NFL, providing he was able to rise above his early educational challenges and in a very short period of time. That doesn’t sound like a “dumb” kid to us.
Leigh Anne Really Did Fake Michael’s Baby Photo
In real life, Leigh Anne Tuohy wanted to show a baby photo from Michael Oher’s past during his high school graduation ceremony. His drug-addicted mom didn’t have any photos to share so she faked it. Leigh Anne took to the internet where she searched for photos of black babies.
She eventually found a photo she thought looked adorable and passed it off as belonging to Michael’s past. The picture appeared in the senior program at graduation but it was not blown up on the stage as we witnessed in the movie. We’re going to consider those graduation programs a collector’s item at this point.
Oher Believed From A Young Age That Sports Were His “Way Out”
Growing up in the projects, Oher knew that his best opportunity to escape was through athletics. He originally focused his efforts on basketball and he quickly excelled. His athleticism and size helped him compete at a high level in both football and basketball.
Realizing his strength wasn’t enough, he started to devour sports knowledge, becoming an expert in both of his sports before he ever reached the college level. “The Blind Side” completely ignored his love of sports and instead portrayed him as a lost teen who was introduced to football as a way to bring structure to his tumultuous life.
Family Photos Shown In The Movie’s Credits Are The Real Deal
Leigh Anne Tuohy may have been forced to fake baby Michael’s photo for his high school graduation program but that wasn’t the case for the movie’s use of family photos. During the initial credit sequence for the movie, family, school, and sports photographs are displayed for the real Michael Oher and the entire Tuohy family.
Once he was in a stable and loving environment, Oher was able to build new and happier moments with his adopted family. Watch closely and you’ll have a glimpse into the real family’s life together after Michael arrived and became a part of their family.
Hugh Freeze Was Hired By Ole Miss And It Caused Some Controversy
The movie conveniently glosses over the fact that Ole Miss hired Oher’s high school coach, Hugh Freeze, just 20 days after Oher signed his letter of intent. Freeze was quick to claim that it wasn’t a quid pro quo situation but rather the result of a preexisting relationship he had with Ole Miss offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
The Tuohy’s have long claimed that they didn’t in any way attempt to influence Oher’s decision in terms of what college he decided to attend. The hiring of Freeze would have raised too many questions for moviegoers which is likely why the situation was completely ignored.
Was That Safari For Windows — In 2004?
Not every false moment in the movie was created by dishonest storytelling, some of them were simple mistakes that were just overlooked by the film’s directorial team. For example, Sean Tuohy is seen using a computer browser that didn’t exist during the time period. Tuohy looked up some information on his computer and he is clearly using Safari for Windows.
The problem is that Safari for Windows wasn’t released until 2007 and Michael Oher was living with the family in 2004. It wasn’t of central importance for the film but it’s still another layer that adds to the already dishonest retelling of Michael Oher’s very personal story.
Leigh Anne Touhy Has Become A Social Crusader
Leigh Anne Touhy has said in many interviews that Michael Oher changed her family’s views on the world. That change can be seen in the story she shared on Facebook about two young black men who were being judged by visitors to one of her family’s fast food restaurants.
“They showed me their phones and they were texting friends trying to scrape up $3.00 each for the high school basketball game! Well, they left with smiles, money for popcorn and bus fare. We have to STOP judging people and assuming and pigeon-holing people! Don’t judge a book by its cover or however, you’d like to express the sentiment! Accept others and stop seeing what you want to see!!” It looks like Michael Oher changed his new family’s life just like they changed his.
Oher Eventually Made Peace With The Movie
Michael Oher wasn’t a fan of “The Blind Side” when it was first released because it detracted from talk about his NFL career. However, during an ESPN interview in 2016, he came to terms with the movie. “I guess it’s a good story. It’s a great story,” he said.
“They [Touhy’s] helped me to get this point from what I can tell. They’re my family and without them, I wouldn’t be here. They taught me a lot of things, showed me a lot of different things. It shows that if you help somebody and give somebody a chance and don’t judge people look where they can get to.”