Is "The Blind Side" a lie? Michael Oher's claims of an adoption that never happened, explained

Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for the uplifting football film, but allegations raise questions about its authenticity

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer
Published August 16, 2023 6:23PM (EDT)
Updated August 17, 2023 5:46PM (EDT)
Baltimore Ravens #23 draft pick Michael Oher poses for a photograph with his family at Radio City Music Hall for the 2009 NFL Draft on April 25, 2009 in New York City (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Baltimore Ravens #23 draft pick Michael Oher poses for a photograph with his family at Radio City Music Hall for the 2009 NFL Draft on April 25, 2009 in New York City (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

The 2007 hit "The Blind Slide" is perceived as an uplifting feel-good movie starring one of Hollywood's loveable, favorite Oscar winners Sandra Bullock. As the cultural tide has shifted over the years, the film has been mired in controversy. Recently there have been concerning allegations uncovered behind the story that inspired the Oscar-nominated film, which was loosely based on the life of Michael Oher, his adoption story and his eventual career highs as he was drafted into the NFL. 

But the real-life story may not be as shiny as "The Blind Slide" portrayed it to be. Oher, now 37, filed a lawsuit earlier this week detailing allegations that he was never legally adopted by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy (whom Bullock portrayed in the film). He alleged that the Tuohys deceived him and profited from his fictionalized life story depicted in "The Blind Slide."

What is Oher's story? Why is "The Blind Side" so controversial? And what is each side alleging? Salon breaks it all down:

Who is Michael Oher?

Oher is a retired NFL star, who was drafted for the Baltimore Ravens in 2009. He eventually played for the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers. While he played for the Ravens, he won Super Bowl 47 and appeared in Super Bowl 50 as part of the Panthers' starting lineup. 

Not only is he a Super Bowl champion, but he was one of the subjects in the book by Michael Lewis "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game." The book eventually turned into the Oscar-nominated movie "The Blind Slide."

Oher's early life was filled with adversity because his mother struggled with addiction and his father was entangled in the justice system. During his adolescence, Oher bounced from foster homes to periods of homelessness. Due to his circumstances, he struggled to be in a stable home life but in his teens, he was dedicated to athletics: track, basketball and of course football. He eventually was admitted to a private high school in Tennessee where he met the Tuohys, the parents of his classmates. They took him in and allegedly became his legal guardians.

Since his retirement from football, Oher has written three books, and his most recent memoir "When Your Back's Against the Wall: Fame, Football, and Lessons Learned through a Lifetime of Adversity" was released Aug. 8.

Why is "The Blind Side" significant?

The film nominated for best picture tells a dramatized version of Oher's life which stars Bullock and Tim McGraw as the Tuohys. Bullock won the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne. The film depicts Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron) as a simple, gentle giant type with a low IQ and no athletic skills — very much unlike his real-life counterpart. Michael is admitted to a private school where he is then scouted by the coach to play for their football team. Leigh Anne Tuohy notices that Michael is homeless, takes him and then begins to train and teach him how to be a football player. "The Blind Side" earned praise, awards and also has the distinction of becoming the highest-grossing football film and sports drama of all time at the domestic box office.

Despite its critical acclaim and popularity, "The Blind Side" has also been decried as a white savior film, which relies on the racist narrative of a white character being the catalyst to help a person/people of color be able to achieve anything significant. In this case, it's a rich Southern woman who transforms a poor, homeless Black teen into a superstar professional football player. The film is presented as a feel-good, underdog sports drama but its critics say that the film serves as a vessel for how whiteness benefits from Black pain and struggle.

Since the lawsuit sent tidal waves across the industry, Bullock has yet to make a statement. But her co-star and Oher's film counterpart, actor Quinton Aaron defended calls for Bullock's Oscar to be given back in an interview with The New York Post.

What are the allegations against the Tuohys?

His story may have been the inspiration for "The Blind Slide," but Oher is now alleging that the Tuohys who supposedly adopted him when he was a high school student, never did and conspired against him to make business deals in his name. He also claims that the Tuohys used the conservatorship to strike a deal that paid their two children $225,000 for the film plus 2.5% of the film's proceeds, which would mean they made millions of dollars in royalties from "The Blind Side." The film made more than $300 million, which Oher alleges he received nothing for a story "that would not have existed without him."

The claim also states that Oher only recently found out about the alleged conservatorship this year: "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 still call Oher their adopted son and continue to use Oher's connection to them as a way to promote their foundation and Leigh Anne's work as an author and motivational speaker.

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How have the Tuohys responded to the lawsuit?

Sean Tuohy initially told the Daily Memphian that he was stunned by Oher's allegations and said the Tuohys "didn't make any money off the movie," only a share of proceeds from Michael Lewis' book, which was the foundation for the film.

During a press conference on Wednesday, the Tuhoys said they intend to end the conservatorship that Oher has accused them of exploiting.

Lewis, a childhood friend of the Tuhoys and the writer of "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" defended the couple in an interview with The Washington Post. He said only Hollywood profited off the film but those involved in the book and people the film was based on did not profit significantly despite the film's success.

"Michael Oher should join the writers strike. It's outrageous how Hollywood accounting works, but the money is not in the Tuohys' pockets," Lewis said.

In a statement to People Magazine, the Tuohys' attorney claimed that Oher threatened the family, "saying that he would plant a negative story about them in the press unless they paid him $15 million," before he filed the bombshell lawsuit accusing them of lying about his adoption while making millions off of his name and story.

The Tuohys' attorney also claims Oher's lawsuit is "a cynical attempt to drum up attention in the middle of his latest book tour."

Oher's camp responded to the statement, saying they stand by Oher's lawsuit: "We believe that justice will be served in the courtroom, and we hope to get there quickly."


By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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Explainer Lawsuit Michael Oher Sandra Bullock Sean And Leigh Anne Tuohy The Blind Side White Savior