Opinion | Unraveling the Reasons Behind Michael Oher’s Anger

When “The Blind Side” movie was released in 2009, I watched it with great interest as it connected to several significant aspects of my life. The film tells the story of Michael Oher, a young Black athlete who moves in with a white family, the Tuohys, and goes on to play football for Ole Miss and the NFL. Growing up in Alabama, where college football is a major part of the culture, this story resonated deeply with me. Additionally, as an adopted individual who believed in the importance of family, Oher’s journey felt personal. As a former equity analyst and a fan of Michael Lewis, the author of the book on which the movie is based, I was also intrigued by how the complex subjects were made accessible and memorable.

However, despite my initial fascination, both the book and the movie perpetuate harmful stereotypes about Black athletes and adoptions of Black children. These stereotypes, along with the possibility of presenting Oher’s story in a different light, are at the core of the recent lawsuit filed by Oher. While the lawsuit focuses on financial matters, it delves into deeper questions about ownership and expectations placed on Black Americans.

Oher, now 37 and retired from football, is suing the Tuohys for misleading him to believe that the legal conservatorship they held over him was akin to adoption. He also claims they profited from the film, sold his life rights without proper compensation, and misrepresented his character as a poor, unintelligent Black individual who only succeeded because of his time with the Tuohys. One scene from the movie, in which Sean Jr. teaches Oher about football as if he were a toddler, emphasizes this portrayal.

It seems that Mr. Lewis intentionally depicted Oher as intellectually inferior. In an interview, Lewis suggested that big football schools enroll underprivileged Black athletes in easy majors to maintain their GPAs, hinting at Oher’s major in criminal justice at Ole Miss. However, Lewis failed to acknowledge that Black players may be interested in criminal justice due to racial disparities within the criminal justice system.

Contrary to the film’s narrative, Oher graduated in 2009 with honors. While the Tuohys argue that they treated Oher as a member of their family, the unconventional legal relationship they established raises questions about their motivations. By choosing a conservatorship instead of adoption, they potentially violated NCAA recruitment rules, as the Tuohys held influential positions within the University of Mississippi. Yet, adult adoption in Tennessee is relatively simple to accomplish.

Because Oher was not legally adopted, he does not possess the same privileges or potential inheritances as the Tuohys’ biological children. The exact financial details of the Tuohys’ involvement in “The Blind Side” remain unclear, but they have capitalized on their story through book deals and appearances. In the Deep South, where college football has immense cultural significance, associating with a star recruit like Oher grants a unique status and prestige.

The film depicts Leigh Anne Tuohy as the driving force behind Oher’s success, but the reality is more nuanced. Before his time with the Tuohys, Oher was taken in by a man named Big Tony, who introduced him to Briarcrest Christian School to provide him with a better education. It was college football scout Tom Lemming who recognized Oher’s talent and placed him on the list of top recruits, attracting attention from Division I coaches.

From my perspective as an adoptee, I can understand why Oher is upset and why he waited to voice his concerns. It is demeaning to be told that one’s success is solely due to the kindness of others. This perception often prevails, leading to feelings of resentment. However, adoptees are hesitant to express this resentment for fear of being seen as ungrateful. Striking a balance between addressing these complicated emotions and maintaining a relationship with adoptive parents can be challenging.

In the world of adoption, it often serves the interests of adoptive parents and the adoption industry to adhere to certain narratives. These narratives can overshadow the nuanced experiences and feelings of adoptees, like Michael Oher, hindering progress toward a more inclusive and empathetic understanding of adoption.


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