When NFL Star Michael Oher, Who Inspired the Blind Side Movie, Sued the Tuohys for Making Millions Off a Lie

Michael Oher, the inspiration behind The Blind Side, sues the Tuohys, accusing them of making millions from a fabricated story about his life.

Published on Jun 30, 2024  |  06:01 AM IST |  87.4K
 NFL Star Michael Oher (PC:Twitter)
NFL Star Michael Oher (PC:Twitter)

Retired NFL star Michael Oher became a household name due to his supposed adoption by a wealthy. The White family, as depicted in the 2009 film The Blind Side, has taken legal action. They claim that the narrative central to the story was a fabrication designed to benefit the Tuohy family financially at his expense.

On Monday, Oher filed a 14-page petition in Shelby County, Tennessee, probate court, alleging that Sean. Leigh Anne Tuohy brought him into their home during his high school years. However, she never actually adopted him. 

The petition claims that just three months after Oher turned 18, in 2004, the Tuohys tricked him into signing a document that made them his conservators. Thereby granting them the authority to make business decisions in his name.

Michael Oher sues Tuohys over The Blind Side profits

The petition further asserts that the Tuohys exploited their conservatorship status to secure a deal that paid them and their two biological children millions in royalties from the Oscar-winning film, which grossed over $300 million, while Oher received nothing for a story that revolved around him. Despite this, the Tuohys allegedly continued to present Oher as their adopted son, using this narrative to advance their foundation and Leigh Anne Tuohy’s career as an author and motivational speaker.

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"The lie of Michael's adoption is one upon which Co-Conservators Leigh Anne Tuohy and Sean Tuohy have enriched themselves at the expense of their Ward, the undersigned Michael Oher," the legal filing states. "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 provided him no familial relationship with the Tuohys."

The Tuohy family has not yet commented on the allegations. Their attorney, Steve Farese, indicated that a legal response would be forthcoming. Sean Tuohy expressed shock over Oher’s claims, stating that the family did not profit from the film, only from the book by Michael Lewis that inspired it.

Oher’s petition seeks to terminate the Tuohys' conservatorship and requests an injunction to stop them from using his name and likeness. He also demands a full accounting of the profits the Tuohys earned using his story and compensation for his rightful share. Along with unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

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"Since at least August of 2004, conservators have allowed Michael, specifically, and the public. Generally, people believe that conservators adopted Michael and have used that untruth to gain financial advantages for themselves. The foundations which they own or over which they exercise control," the petition states. "All monies made in the said manner should, in all conscience and equity, be disgorged and paid over to the said ward, Michael Oher."

Oher, a rising high school senior who signed the conservatorship papers, believed at the time that there was no significant difference between adoption and conservatorship. "They explained to me that it means pretty much the same thing as 'adoptive parents,' but that the laws were just written in a way that took my age into account," Oher wrote in his 2011 memoir "I Beat the Odds."

Legally, however, there are crucial distinctions. Had Oher been adopted, he would have been a legal member of the Tuohy family and retained control over his financial affairs. The conservatorship, by contrast, transferred that control to the Tuohys, even though Oher was a legal adult without any known disabilities.

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The petition also claims that the Tuohys began negotiating a movie deal about their relationship with Oher shortly after the 2006 release of Lewis's book. The movie reportedly paid the Tuohys and their two children $225,000 each, plus 2.5% of the film’s net proceeds. 

The film, which grossed over $300 million and earned Sandra Bullock an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy, was a critical and commercial success. However, the petition alleges that a separate 2007 contract signed by Oher transferred his life rights to 20th Century Fox without any payment. Oher claims he has no memory of signing this contract and that no one explained its implications to him.

The petition highlights that all four Tuohy family members had the same representative at Creative Artists Agency, while Oher’s listed agent, Debra Branan, was a close family friend and the same lawyer who filed the conservatorship petition. Branan has not commented on the matter.

In the past, the Tuohys have denied profiting significantly from the movie, asserting they received a flat fee that was shared with Oher. However, Oher contends that he never received any money from the film, even though he long suspected that others were benefiting financially. His attorney, J. Gerard Stranch IV, notes that Oher’s suspicions grew over time, particularly as the Tuohys’ explanations remained vague.

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Michael Oher in the world of NFL

Oher’s relationship with the Tuohys began to fray when he realized the movie portrayed him as unintelligent, which he felt negatively impacted his NFL career by making some decision-makers view him as lacking in leadership skills. "People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie," Oher told ESPN in 2015. "They don't really see the skills and the kind of player I am."

Despite the controversies, the Tuohys have always maintained that Oher had the potential to succeed on his own. "If there is a fundamental misapprehension about Michael, it's that he needed saving," the Tuohys wrote in their book. "We discovered that underneath his shyness, his foot shuffling, and his head ducking, he had a tremendous will to determine the course of his own life."

Also read: Michael Oher Net Worth - How much is ‘The Blind Side’ Michael Oher worth in 2024?

Oher's petition challenges the inspirational narrative created by The Blind Side, arguing that while it brought some positive attention, it also inflicted deep personal pain and misrepresented his true story. "There has been so much created from The Blind Side that I am grateful for, which is why you might find it a shock that the experience surrounding the story has also been a large source of some of my deepest hurt and pain over the past 14 years," Oher wrote in his recent book "When Your Back's Against the Wall."

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As Oher seeks justice through the courts, the case serves as a poignant reminder of the complexities and potential exploitation involved in high-profile, inspirational stories.

Also read: 5 Best Football Movies Based on True Storie

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