Michael Oher, the former NFL star whose story was famously dramatized in the Oscar-winning film The Blind Side, revealed in a Tennessee court filing Monday that the film’s central premise—his adoption by the white, wealthy Tuohy family—was actually a big lie.
Instead, Oher alleges that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, the parents who invited him to live with them for his senior year of high school, tricked him into signing a document that made them his conservators under the guise of adoption.
Oher said he signed the document less than three months after he turned 18, trusting the family when they said the conservator agreement was necessary to join their family because he was no longer a minor. In reality, Oher now claims the document meant he never officially joined the Tuohy family at all, despite Sean and Leigh Anne insisting he call them mom and dad. The document did allow the Tuohys to profit millions off his story, however, while he claims to have made zilch from The Blind Side directly.
Oher’s filing was to petition a judge to remove Sean and Leigh Anne as his conservators and to issue an injunction that ensures they can no longer profit off his name, image and likeness. It also requested that a judge order the Tuohys to pay a share of royalties from The Blind Side—which reeled in $309 million at the box office—that he claims were deceptively kept from him.
“Leigh Anne Tuohy and Sean Tuohy have enriched themselves at the expense of…Michael Oher,” the petition says. “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.”
Speaking to the Daily Memphian on Monday, Sean Tuohy said the family had been “devastated” by Oher’s allegations.
“It’s upsetting to think we would make money off any of our children,” he added. “But we’re going to love Michael at 37 just like we loved him at 16.”
Of the conservatorship, Tuohy explained that it had been necessary to ingratiate Oher as part of the family in order for him to play college football—but that lawyers told them that they wouldn’t be able to adopt someone over the age of 18. “The only thing we could do was to have a conservatorship,” he said.
Adult adoption, however, is legal in Tennessee, and relatively straightforward to establish with the consent of the adoptee.
The filing said Oher was a vulnerable teen when he signed the papers, having no clue he was signing away his rights to future millions. At the time, he was a rising senior still reeling from an embattled childhood, having been born into a family of 12 with a mom who struggled with drug addiction. By the time Oher reached 12th grade, he’d lived in multiple foster homes and attended 11 schools in nine years.
Oher concedes in the filing that he was thrilled when the Tuohy family invited him into their home in the summer of 2004. He was given housing, tutoring and guidance as he geared up for college as one of the country’s top recruits.
This drama was played out in The Blind Side, which showed the Touhy family pushing Oher to attend their alma mater, the University of Mississippi. Oher eventually enrolled at Ole Miss and was a standout on its football team—positioning him to be a top NFL draft pick in 2009.
While Oher was focused on his playing career, he said the Tuohy family was working to profit from his success. After a bestselling book by Michael Lewis was published about Oher’s path to Ole Miss, the Tuohys negotiated a contract with 20th Century Fox Studios to turn the nonfiction account into a film while leaving Oher largely in the dark, the filing says.
Oher claims the Tuohys negotiated a hefty payout of $250,000 for each of its four family members, as well as royalty checks equal to 2.5 percent of the film’s “defined net proceeds.” Despite being the story’s centerpiece, Oher says he never made a dime and was left out of negotiations entirely.
Oher’s attorneys say someone tricked him into signing, or forged his signature, on an agreement that said he would willingly forfeit any proceeds from The Blind Side. That agreement supposedly said Oher’s story was exclusively for 20th Century Fox Studios to own “without any payment whatsoever” to him. Oher claims he doesn’t remember ever viewing or signing that document.
Tuohy denied to the Daily Memphian that the family had made “any money off the movie,” but admitted, “Well, Michael Lewis gave us half of his share. Everybody in the family got an equal share, including Michael [Oher]. It was about $14,000, each.”
Monday’s filing said Oher did not address his issues with the Tuohys for years because he was focused on his football career, which ended in 2016. He said he was long suspicious that he was being denied profits from the film, especially after he said the film wrongly portrayed him as being mentally slow.
“Mike’s relationship with the Tuohy family started to decline when he discovered that he was portrayed in the movie as unintelligent,” Oher’s attorney, J. Gerard Stranch IV, told ESPN. “Their relationship continued to deteriorate as he learned that he was the only member of the family not receiving royalty checks from the movie, and it was permanently fractured when he realized he wasn’t adopted and a part of the family.”
Tuohy said to the Daily Memphian that he’d started to feel Oher pulling away from the family “maybe a year and a half ago,” but that he was still taken aback by Monday’s events.
Insisting that he still wants the best for Oher, Tuohy suggested he wouldn’t fight the petition—at least, the part requesting the dissolution of the conservatorship. “I want whatever Michael wants,” he said.