(NEW YORK) — “The Blind Side,” the critically acclaimed movie released in 2009, chronicled the inspirational story of now-retired NFL offensive lineman Michael Oher, who overcame homelessness as a child and went on to become a top draft pick after a supportive white couple took him under their care.
Now, the film is back in the headlines after Oher filed a court petition against that couple, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, alleging they made millions off a dishonest portrayal of Oher’s story while cutting him out of earnings from the Oscar-nominated film. Oher claims the Tuohys never adopted him but instead tricked him into signing a document agreeing to a conservatorship that gave them the authority to make business deals in his name.
In a lengthy rebuttal made public Tuesday, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy’s attorney Martin Singer called Oher’s allegations against his clients “outlandish” and “hurtful and absurd” and likened the filing to a “shakedown.”
“In reality, the Tuohys opened their home to Mr. Oher, offered him structure, support and, most of all, unconditional love. They have consistently treated him like a son and one of their three children. His response was to threaten them, including saying that he would plant a negative story about them in the press unless they paid him $15 million,” Singer’s statement continued.
Singer also claims the Tuohys have given Oher an “equal cut of every penny received” from the film.
In response to Singer’s claims, an attorney for Oher said in a statement, “We try cases in the courtroom based on the facts. We have confidence in our judicial system and in our client Michael Oher. We believe that justice will be served in the courtroom, and we hope to get there quickly.”
Senior ESPN writer Michael Fletcher spoke to ABC News’ podcast START HERE about the details of the court petition and its potential impact on the film’s legacy.
BRAD MIELKE: Michael, this is like a foundational story for anyone who knows football. What’s happened here?
MICHAEL FLETCHER: Michael Oher has come forward to say that the supposed adoption never occurred, that the family, the Tuohys, who took him in as a homeless high school student, told him that they were adopting him, but did not, instead had him sign over kind of his rights to sort of make business deals and use that leverage, that power, that authority to cut a deal with the movie studio that cut Michael Oher out of any profits.
The [court petition] that he filed alleges that the Tuohys made millions while he got absolutely nothing. And it’s just absolutely mind blowing, because it totally wipes away the narrative we all thought we understood.
MIELKE: And just so I’m clear, what is the difference between being adopted? Like, everyone who’s using the word adopted. He was adopted by this family. And now he’s saying, “No, I was actually, I was under a conservatorship.” I mean, what is the difference there?
FLETCHER: There’s a huge difference. If you’re adopted, you become a family member. And at the time, Michael was a few months over 18 years old when these papers were signed, but he would have been a sibling to his brother and sister, the Touhys’, you know, natural born children. And more crucially, in this case, he would have retained his rights to negotiate contracts for himself. His parents would not have had that power.
Conservatorships, typically, in adults are put in place for people who don’t have the ability to take care of themselves, to make decisions for themselves. They handle their own affairs. And no one alleges that Michael Oher, as steeped in poverty as he was, lacked that ability.
MIELKE: Did he explain why this is happening now? Because, like, excuse me. You don’t know if your family actually adopted you? You’re unclear how much money you made from this huge blockbuster film. I mean, what has changed that sort of made him go, ‘Oh, wait, this is not the story that you guys have all heard?’
FLETCHER: Well, it’s so interesting. You know, I asked his lawyer that question, because that’s the question that everybody kind of wants to know the answer to. And the answer I’m given is that, all along, when the movie became kind of this maybe surprise blockbuster, Michael Oher was curious. He was like, “Well, you know, is anybody getting money for this?” And he was always deflected within the family, basically told, “No, we’re not getting much money.”
As it turns out, the Tuohys wrote in their book back in 2010 that there was some money paid, but they also said that they had cut Michael Oher in on that money, and they minimized the amounts, that it was a flat fee, they had no share of the profits and that sort of thing.
So Michael had this in back of his mind, but at the same time, he’s launching his NFL career, so he didn’t pursue it fully. Well at some point he hired a lawyer, and they were able to dig out the details – so his lawyer says – the details of the contract that the family had with the movie company. And that was the aha moment – like hold on, they’ve been telling me that they haven’t gotten any money, but it says here in black and white that they did. They get 2.5% of the profits, and this was a huge movie. You know, it grossed over $300 million at the box office.
So Michael’s career ends in 2016, and he still has this question that he’s pursuing. As his lawyer tells the story, it wasn’t until February of this year that they unearthed the conservatorship document that said, ‘Hey, you’re not an adopted child after all, Michael Oher, you are under a conservatorship.’ And that’s a whole different deal. And that’s when he was most upset and decided to file suit.
MIELKE: And for awhile people were wondering what the response from the Tuohys would be. It now appears to be outright skepticism. We’re hearing from SJ, the [Tuohys’] son, that’s on a Barstool Sports podcast.
SJ Tuohy on podcast: “If he says he learned in February, I find that hard to believe…I was curious today, randomly, to go back to look at our family group text and see what things have been said, and there were things [Oher said] back in 2020, 2021 that were like “You know, if you guys give me this much, then I won’t go public with things.”
MIELKE: So that’s the son. The parents have retained the well-known lawyer Marty Singer. He was was once called Hollywood’s bulldog.” He put out a statement yesterday, saying his family was always very clear about the conservatorship arrangement, so that they could assist Oher with college admissions, with health insurance and stuff. For the movie profits, he says, the family always insisted that Oher get an equal share, and that he’s tried this “shakedown” other times with other lawyers before. Oher says he’ll let the [court petition] speak for itself.
And this brings me to my last question, Michael: If these allegations are true, does this reframe how we think of this whole story and what his story meant to the public over these last 10 to 15 years?
FLETCHER: No absolutely, and this is another element here. Michael Oher all along disliked the movie. You know, he felt like he was portrayed as unintelligent, as slow, as someone who didn’t have agency, didn’t have pluck, didn’t have internal drive.
And all these things, of course, played a part in his success – you know, not only being an NFL player, but being a college graduate, a guy who came from the circumstances he came from to, sort of, make it that far. So that’s been one thing.
And he was willing to kind of live that myth, if you will, thinking, “OK, you know, the movie’s an inspirational thing. It’s a movie, after all. And, you know, I can live with that.” But he always believed that the Tuohys loved him and that their help for him was genuine. And now that’s gone away. So that totally changes, kind of, how I think we all should see the story, if this is indeed true.
MIELKE: You think about when this movie was released. In 2009, people were talking about a post-racial America. You had this movie that was criticized for being kind of this white savior movie. And now you wonder if we look at that differently now with or without Michael Oher’s accusations out there.
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