Many are familiar with former NFL lineman Michael Oher’s story as told in the acclaimed book and blockbuster film, “The Blind Side.” The CNN FlashDoc, “Blindsided,” exposes the truth behind the Hollywood spin on Oher’s story and premieres this Thursday, November 16 on Max.
A new CNN documentary releasing on Thursday sheds light on the strained, complex relationship between former NFL player Michael Oher and the Tuohy family.
Oher’s life and his time living with Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, a wealthy White family from Memphis, Tennessee, was the subject of a book and the 2009 blockbuster, “The Blind Side.”
The Oscar-winning movie charts the former offensive lineman’s rise from homelessness and poverty to becoming a star football player at college and in the NFL with the help of the Tuohy family.
But “Blindsided” paints a different picture of Oher’s upbringing, challenging the film’s depiction of him as unsophisticated, uneducated and solely reliant on the family’s support for his success.
“It’s kind of embarrassing, and I’m embarrassed for him as a friend,” Quinterio Franklin, one of the Super Bowl winner’s former classmates, says in the CNN documentary after watching a scene from the movie in which Oher submits a test without answering any of the questions, instead drawing a stick figure on a boat. “It’s not accurate and it’s hurtful.”
Anthony Burrow, Oher’s former caregiver, agrees. “He’s very smart, he’s capable,” Burrow says in the documentary. “In the movie, it depicted a totally different person.”
Oher went to high school at Briarcrest Christian School in Eads, east of Memphis, and after his junior year started staying with the Tuohys and accompanying the family on shopping trips.
This narrative is captured in “The Blind Side,” which followed a 2006 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. The film proved a hugely popular rags-to-riches tale, reportedly making more than $330 million and earning Sandra Bullock an Oscar for her role as Leigh Anne Tuohy.
But the veracity of some of the scenes has been questioned. At one point, for example, the Tuohy’s young son, SJ, is seen explaining basic rules of football to Oher by using bottles of sauce as a stand-in for players.
“I’m sorry about the part that I played in adding to his discomfort in the role that he watched,” Quinton Aaron, who played Oher in “The Blind Side,” says in the documentary after reflecting on the rule-explaining scene. “But in Hollywood, you have to think about the audience that you want to shop and market this to.”
Oher has previously said that the film “took away the hard work and the dedication that I curated,” adding that he disliked his portrayal as someone who couldn’t read or write.
“When you go into a locker room and your teammates don’t think that you can learn a playbook, that weighs heavy,” Oher told The Jim Rome Show earlier this year.
In August, Oher filed a petition in a Tennessee court to end his conservatorship with the Tuohys, which he claimed had kept millions of dollars from him, including his share of the film proceedings. In the petition, he said that the Tuohys had told him that they were going to adopt him.
A conservatorship is a legal arrangement enabling a court-appointed person to make financial, medical and/or other decisions on behalf of another adult.
It is typically implemented in situations when an adult is considered unable to make decisions for themselves, whether from a serious mental illness, a disability or other debilitating conditions.
A Tennessee judge terminated the Tuohy’s conservatorship over Oher in September. A Tuohy family court filing from this month detailed that Oher, and later his son, were paid more than $138,000 from “The Blind Side” book and movie between 2007 and April of this year. Oher has until November 28 to file any objections to the Tuohy’s document.
“The Tuohy’s have never received any money as conservators on behalf of Michael Oher and further never had control over any funds or any dealings on behalf of Mr. Oher during the entire term of the conservatorship,” the filing said.
In a separate court filing from September, the Tuohys said that they “vehemently deny” telling Oher that they “intended to legally adopt him” and always acted in his “best interest.”
This was after Oher, in his petition to end his conservatorship, and his attorneys said that the Tuohys had taken advantage of “a gullible young man whose athletic talent could be exploited for their own benefit.”
Speaking in the “Blindsided” documentary, Joseph Crone, one of Oher’s Briarcrest teammates, says that the Tuohy family claiming they had never intended to legally adopt Oher “is contrary to what has been voiced during the last 20 years.”
Meanwhile, Nate Hale, Oher’s foster brother, explains how, growing up in foster care, hearing someone say “adopted” is “the greatest feeling in the world when you feel like you have nobody.”
“To hear people who you felt had your best interests say we never intended to [adopt],” Hale adds, “in my opinion, that’s betrayal.”
In August, attorneys for the Tuohys said that the family doesn’t “need” Oher’s money, adding that “Mr. Tuohy sold his company for $220 million.” Oher declined to be interviewed for the CNN documentary, citing pending litigation, while the Tuohy family also declined an interview.
Oher played eight seasons and started 110 games in the NFL. He won the Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013 and went on to play for the Tennessee Titans and the Carolina Panthers before retiring in 2017 aged 30.