Casual football viewers can rarely pick offensive linemen apart from one another. While they may seem like big bodies that are good at pushing each other, NFL player Michael Oher has broken the mold to become one of the best-known names in the game. Oher set the record straight about his life, which became a hit movie.
He might have grown into an NFL player, but Michael Oher’s life was anything but enviable. This is his topsy-turvy story.
One Of Twelve Kids
Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, was not always easy for Michael Oher. His mother struggled greatly with substance abuse, so Michael was forced to grow up fast. In an interview with 20/20, Oher said, “She wasn’t really around too much. I took care of myself most of the time.” As tough as it is to say it, it must have been even tougher to live it. He was one of 12 kids living in Hurt Village, a housing project in North Memphis.
With his alcoholic mother barely around, Michael was put into foster care at age seven. Due to his lack of supervision, Michael had a short attention span and little discipline. He repeated first and second grades. In his first nine years as a student, he attended 11 schools. It did not help that he rarely stayed at a foster home for long, bouncing between various homes. He was heading in a dangerous direction until Tony Henderson, an auto mechanic, enrolled him at Briarcrest Christian School.
Not Given Enough Credit
Oher’s life story became the subject of author Michael Lewis’s 2006 bestseller The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. In 2009, the book was adapted into a film by John Lee Hancock titled The Blind Side. The Sandra Bullock-starring film took some creative liberties with its story, one of which irked Oher. He felt that the movie marginalized the role of Tony Henderson in his life. Henderson was depicted as Tony Hamilton, but Oher hoped the film would better show his influence.
A Good Kid
Michael got lucky that Tony was there to help him. Tony said in an interview, “He was a good kid. He was real quiet and especially stayed to himself.” He had plenty of years of bad habits and was not the best student. Oher said, “It was easy for me to say, ‘I’m going to hang out with these guys and not go to school, but I decided I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to be something in life.”
School Changed His Life
In the film, Briarcrest Christian School is renamed Wingate Christian School in another case of creative licensing by the writing team. Regardless of the name of his school, Oher stuck out like a sore thumb at his new school. Oher was much larger than most kids his age and was not able to blend in the way he intended. Collins Tuohy, a student at Briarcrest, could not help but tell her parents about the new boy at school that was twice her size.
Hungry And Alone
Collins’ father Sean was intrigued by Michael. Sean’s curiosity would lead to one of the most interesting time in young Michael’s life. Sean began to monitor Michael closely. He noticed that Michael would frequently skip eating lunch because he simply did not have money to buy food. Sean’s parental instincts kicked in as he could not allow a boy to go without lunch each day. He started giving Michael money for lunch and continued to do so throughout the year.
In The Blind Side, Michael has an essay of his read by his teacher, Mrs. Boswell, in front of the whole class. The essay is titled “White Walls.” In knowing that the film took some liberties with the source material and Michael’s life, many questioned if the essay actually existed or was added as an emotional hook. Oher admitted that he did indeed write the essay. The only major difference is that he read it during his senior year, not his first couple days there.
Not Exactly True
Sean’s help was greatly appreciated, but his wife Leigh Anne was the star of the film. The real Leigh Anne revealed that “there were a few artistic liberties taken,” in the film and especially in the scene in which Michael walks through the rain in only a polo shirt and shorts with all his belongings in a plastic bag. Leigh Anne, in the film, promptly approaches him and tell him that he will be spending the night with the Tuohys. In reality…
The Eventful Thanksgiving Break
Leigh Anne actually spotted Michael as he strolled around on a crisp November morning while everyone was off for Thanksgiving. He was wandering around in only a T-shirt and jeans, which he wore to school every day. The only problem was that it was snowing outside on that Tennessee morning. Unlike in the film, in which she offered a bed to sleep in in their home, Leigh Anne coerced Michael to come shopping with her the next day.
Even though the film claimed Michael went from living on the streets to living with the Tuohys, it took a bit of time before ending up with them. At first, he continued living with Tony Henderson, the man that had helped get him back on his feet and in school. He also lived with at least five other families for short stints. When his football coaches realized he had no home, they decided it was time to find him one.
“I Felt Loved”
In the 20/20 interview, Oher opened up about his time with the Tuohys. He 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.” Fortunately, for the Michael, then 16 years old, the Tuohys opened their arms and opened their doors to him. The good vibes did not stop there for Michael.
Never Had It Before
The Tuohys gave Michael something that he had never had in his life. Not only did they give him a roof to sleep under, but they gave him a bed of his own. In a broken home with 11 siblings, he always had to share. In the film, Leigh Anne got Michael a futon to sleep on. The filmmakers got this scene correct as Sean explained that many professional athletes sleep on futons to fit their large bodies.
Heavy Is An Understatement
When you are 15 years old and six-foot-two, it is hard to avoid a nickname like ‘Big Mike.’ Oher earned the nickname at a young age and only grew bigger. By 2010 when he was playing for the Baltimore Ravens, Oher was listed at six-foot-four and 309 pounds. Interestingly, the actor that played Oher, Quinton Aaron, is actually bigger than Oher. Aaron is listed at six-foot-eight and 472 lbs. Even though he is bigger than Mike, he allowed audiences to feel the size difference between Oher and his peers.
Hated His Name
When you get to Michael Oher’s size, it’s impossible to ignore. That being said, no one likes to be reminded of their high weight and massive height at every turn of the day. In The Blind Side, Michael tells Leigh Anne that he hates the nickname ‘Big Mike.’ Sandra Bullock’s character then tells him that she will only call him by his first name. Michael Oher admitted that this scene actually happened, and that he hates the nickname.
That Was A Lie
Oher was not a fan of every part of the film. He took issue with one scene specifically in which Leigh Anne goes over to Michael while he is on the field and lectures him about protecting his teammates. Michael realizes that the film needed some Hollywood moments, but he didn’t like being portrayed as clueless. “That part right there, it really got me because it was never like that. I’ve always known how to play the game of football,” he said.
Upset He Was Downsized
“I’ve always had a passion for the game. You know, it’s Hollywood, so I mean that’s what they do, but at the end of the day it’s still a good story,” Michael expressed in an interview. He continued to describe the passion he has for the game. “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.”
One thing that football did for Michael is help him express his anger. He was never very good at controlling his anger, but he could channel that energy onto the field. In the film, they show Michael as very calm and able to block out any racist comments thrown his way. In reality, Oher gave those people the finger. Oher did actually carry a Munford defensive lineman off the field on a block after he talked trash.
Michael was lucky to have great people like the Tuohys around. Collins Tuohy was especially kind and welcoming towards him. She and her friends always tried to welcome him into their circle. She said, “My friends were very open to Michael. They were very sweet to him, and we all got along really well.” Considering most of the people that he grew up around, Collins’ words were very kind since he was an honor student. She always tried to make him feel like part of her family.
Mind Your Own Business
The Tuohys took on quite the challenge by taking in Michael. Not only did they have to deal with raising him, but they also had to deal with plenty of comments from their friends and even strangers too. They would question why they would do such a thing, bringing Michael into their home especially with a teenage daughter. Teenage hormones could have been an issue, but Leigh had an answer for the haters, “You just need to mind your own business.”
A Question Of Color
Leigh Anne stuck up for Michael. She would tell the peanut gallery, “You worry about your own life, and I’ll worry about mine.” She was there to defend him, whether it was comments about him living with her children, or about his race. She has been asked plenty of times if she brought him in because he was black. She said, “It had nothing to do with what color Michael was… He was a child that had a need, and it needed to be filled.”
With his size and skill, people were taking notice of Michael Oher, the football player. He had a big decision to make about where he would play in college. Many believed the Tuohys were pulling the strings on where he would go. He said, “Ole Miss was right down the road, and I figured it would be easier for my family, you know, my friends to get down to Oxford to come see me play.” He had over 1,000 recruiting letters, but he had made a decision.
After his college career, Michael Oher had made himself into one of the best linemen in the country. With his whole adoptive family by his side, Michael was drafted with the 23rd pick of the 2009 NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens. His brother Marcus had to wipe away tears after hearing his brother would play in the NFL and sign a $13 million contract. He was even named NFL Rookie of the Month in December of his first season.
Every Day Is A Risk
Oher understands the risks of playing in a game in which lasting brain damage is possible, and a career-ending injury is around the corner. He makes sure to prepare himself as best as he can to play. He said, “Every single day I pick myself up, and I work. I’ve learned not to buy into what other people say. I’ve learned not to put dreams in other people’s hands. I’ve learned to make sacrifices for the team.”
Movie Made Millions
The Blind Side became a smash hit and earned over $300 million at the box office. The movie was not the only Michael Oher-related success. His teammate, Panthers safety Kurt Coleman said, He had a great season and is a big part of us,” he said. “He is a kind person and a family man who knows how to balance football. He is the model you want young players to follow on how to balance this game with a personal view of humility.”
Badmouthing The Film
Throughout his football career, Michael Oher always played left tackle. He even expressed how difficult it would be imagine himself playing another position. However, the demands of an NFL player are much greater, and he was forced to move to other spots for the sake of the team. Oher expressed that moving to right tackle hurt his personal development but was what the team needed from him. He also began trashing talking the film when it brought negative attention to his team.
Nothing To Do With His Game
On how the film affected him, he said, “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.”
A Blessing And A Curse
The film had a bizarre effect on Oher. He seemingly could not make up his mind on how he felt about it. At times he liked it, followed by periods of dislike. Now, he more or less appreciates it as a blessing and a curse. Oher wanted people to know him for his football talent, not the movie about his life. He insists that staying humble and working hard have kept his mind clear of the chatter.
Overshadows His Work
Michael said on the film, “There was a time in my life early in my NFL career where the movie just seemed to take away from me. It made it seem like the movie was responsible for my NFL career, not my play, not my hard work. I had to come to terms with that. I don’t talk about it too much because I don’t want the movie to overshadow my work as a hardworking football player. I do know it’s not someone else. I do know it’s a part of me.”
Hopes For The Future
Today, the 31-year-old Michael is out of a job. He was released by the Carolina Panthers before the 2017 season for failing his physical. Although he doesn’t have a football home, Oher was able to use his football earnings towards buying a home in Baltimore. He said, “I definitely came a long way. Growing up in the projects in some of the roughest parts in Memphis…it was a long road. Every day I’m like, ‘wow, how did I get here?'”