Michael Oher had been on the radar of football fans for years because of his talent. He became a household name, however, after The Blind Side put his inspirational story on the screen for people everywhere. However, in a recent petition filed by his lawyers, Oher claims significant parts of that story were more fiction than fact.
It should be noted that anytime a person’s life is turned into a film, certain license will be taken with the details. Sometimes, that simply makes for a more cohesive story. The recent adaptation of Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place is one such example.
However, at other times, as appears to be the case here, those details make a substantial difference in how the main character is seen by those who watch the movie.
The complicated truth of Michael Oher’s rise to stardom
As Michael A. Fletcher notes in his ESPN profile, Oher’s first point of contention is that he was portrayed as “a poor, virtually homeless and academically challenged” teenager whom Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy essentially rescued by helping him catch up in school, learn to play football, and get on the road to sports stardom.
The truth, however, was a bit more complicated.
As Fletcher describes, “Oher certainly led a hard-knock life growing up. But he also had the smarts, the pluck and plenty of help from the Tuohys and others to rise above his circumstances,” adding that from the moment a friend’s father helped him get into the private school where he met the Tuohys and others, Oher “was a sports prodigy, excelling in track and field, basketball and football, a game he had studied for years.”
While Oher stayed at the homes of multiple families in the school, the Tuohys eventually asked him to move into their house and to think of them as his mom and dad. They also said they planned to adopt him, which is where the most tragic shift in the story happens.
Conservatorship vs. adoption
You see, Oher’s second point of contention—one that only came to light fully this past February—is that the Tuohys never actually adopted him.
Instead, a few months after he turned eighteen, they presented him with papers that he was told were “a necessary legal step in the adoption process” but in actuality named the Tuohys as his “legal conservators.” As a result, instead of becoming an official member of the Tuohys’ family, he just signed away control of his financial decisions to the family.
What complicates matters further is that it’s unclear how Oher actually qualified under Tennessee law to need conservators.
As Barbara Moss, an attorney in the state with experience in conservatorships, noted, to qualify “you have to have a doctor say you have a mental or physical disability in whole or in part.” Oher had neither. She went on to call it “bizarre,” adding, “I’ve never seen something like that happen.”
Ultimately, Oher understood at the time that there was a difference legally, writing in his 2011 memoir titled I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond, that “since I was already over the age of eighteen and considered an adult by the state of Tennessee, Sean and Leigh Anne would be named as my ‘legal conservators.’ They explained to me that it means pretty much the exact same thing as ‘adoptive parents,’ but that the laws were just written in a way that took my age into account.” He went on to add, “Honestly, I didn’t care what it was called. I was just happy that no one could argue that we weren’t legally what we already knew was real: We were a family.”
What’s strange, though, is that the Tuohys could have simply adopted him. There is nothing in Tennessee law that stipulates a person over the age of eighteen cannot be legally adopted or that a conservatorship is a necessary first step. And while it’s possible the Tuohys misunderstood that law as well and genuinely did believe that what they were doing made Michael part of their family, it seems odd they would not have taken steps to rectify that situation once the error was revealed.
What will you believe?
Ultimately, as this story continues to develop, the truth will hopefully emerge in full. Confusion over the degree to which the Tuohys profited from The Blind Side and the extent to which those gains were shared with Oher remains the most confusing part of this story, with both sides making substantially different claims.
Whatever the facts may be, however, when they do come to light, we will be faced with the same choice as when Oher first began criticizing his portrayal in the film: Will we believe what’s true or what we wish were true?
You see, Oher began speaking out about the way he was depicted shortly after the release of The Blind Side. He was rarely part of the film’s promotional tour and believes that the way he was portrayed made it so that NFL decision-makers “assumed he was mentally slow or lacked leadership skills.”
But people liked the story, so they accepted it as fact. I don’t know that anyone really left feeling as though every detail was accurate, but the story’s general acceptance also meant that few stopped to question which parts may have strayed from the truth.
And therein lies the problem.
We are inundated with so much information these days that it can be difficult—if not impossible—to sort through all of it to discern what’s true from what’s false, especially when the line between the two seems to blur. What we can’t afford to do, though, is ignore the truth when it’s made known just because we would prefer to believe the lie.
Paul spoke to this tendency when he warned Timothy that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3–4).
As Christians called to serve the God who is truth (John 14:6), it’s imperative that we don’t make that mistake. Every time we do—even when the lie may seem harmless—it harms the credibility upon which we must draw when sharing the gospel. And the truth of the gospel must always be our highest priority.
Is it yours?