The Untold Truth Of Blind Side's Michael Oher

The following article includes references to addiction and mental health struggles.

On the surface, the story of Michael Oher and the Tuohy family is one of serendipity. According to author Michael Lewis' interview with Identity Theory, he had known Sean Tuohy in his childhood, but the duo hadn't touched base for a little under two decades. Tuohy knew how tough it was for needy children who found themselves in affluent schools and was in the course of helping them when one stood out: Michael Oher. Thus, Lewis' "The Blindside: The Evolution of a Game" was born.

For Lewis, the 2006 book was a part-emotional work of art because of what Oher's relationship with the Tuohys represented. "Here is a fifteen-year-old. He is almost 6'6" tall. He is 350 pounds. He has incredible athletic abilities in this amazingly large body and, nevertheless, no one sees any value in him. Until he crosses over into rich white Memphis, and then his value is tapped," he told the publication.

Three years after its release, the book's movie adaptation "The Blind Side" was a box office success. It raked in $309 million in revenue and subsequently earned lead actor Sandra Bullock an Academy Award. However, key parts of Michael Oher's story have remained untold. Within the chapters of his life are accounts of overcoming poverty, a hobby that paved the way for NFL success, unforeseen early retirement, and allegations of one big — and perhaps infamous — lie. Keep scrolling to unpack the finer details.

Michael Oher had a troubled childhood

In Michael Lewis' "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game," the multiple-time author dived into Michael Oher's impoverished background, which was evident the very first time he crossed paths with Leigh Ann Tuohy on Thanksgiving 2003. At the time, Oher had just enrolled at Briarcrest Christian School. "This boy was new; he had no clothes; he had no warm place to stay over Thanksgiving Break," Lewis wrote, per Newsweek. "For Lord's sake, he was walking to school in the snow in shorts, when school was out of session, on the off chance he could get into the gym and keep warm."

It would take a minute before Oher opened up to Tuohy about his troubled family life, the author noted. Oher and his biological father had not seen each other for a long time, and his mother was struggling with addiction. The football player and his siblings worked tooth and nail for survival. "Begging and bumming was just a way of life," Oher wrote in his 2011 autobiography "I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond."

Oher, who'd also been in and out of different foster homes, lived in a low-income Memphis neighborhood. "The scrub grass, the dead plants in pots, the flaking paint on the houses: everything, including the small children in the streets, looked uncared for," Tuohy had observed of Oher's home, per Lewis' account, which stood on the other side of a deserted building.

He played football and basketball

In spite of the harsh circumstances he grew up in, Michael Oher had hobbies that kept him occupied. The 2013 Super Bowl winner reminisced about his early beginnings, which contributed toward a passion for sports, in a chat with Star Tribune. In some ways, they were simpler. "Sometimes I say I miss those days — playing football in the field all night long or playing basketball for hours without a care in the world," Oher shared with the publication. "But I don't want to say I miss those days because I know how rough they were."

He kept himself going by having an optimistic mindset and a strong desire to live the life of his dreams, one which was far from scarcity. A much younger Oher drew inspiration from six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan and the Dallas Cowboys. "I wanted to be where they were and I knew I had to be tough mentally and work hard to get there," he recalled.

The former NFL star kept in touch with his high school coach

Hugh Freeze coached Michael Oher at Briarcrest Christian School, before moving on to coach at the University of Mississippi in 2012. Although the actor who portrayed him remained uncredited in "The Blind Side," he was fundamental in leading the team toward six title triumphs during his 13-year reign. "He was one of the first mentors I saw do it the right way," Oher said in an interview with "The Jim Rome Show." "... I learned from him that the coach is way more important that the player." Freeze's strategy, both on and off the field, helped his decoding of the game.

Over the years, the pair would stay in contact with each other, and Oher, having had a career in the NFL, would eventually transition to a mentor with the help of Freeze. "He [Freeze] FaceTimes me all the time when he had a big-time recruiter in," Oher shared. "He lets me talk to the big-time recruits." Oher marveled at Freeze's brilliance at coaching. 

When Freeze resigned from Ole Miss in 2017 following allegations of gross conduct, Oher came to his defense, per USA Today. Freeze would later assume the role of head coach at Auburn University in November 2022 after working at Liberty University.

Michael Oher took time to warm up to Leigh Anne Tuohy

Although Michael Oher grew fond of the Tuohys — whom he thought were his adoptive family — and had nothing but praise for them publicly until his 2023 lawsuit (more on this below), his first meeting with Leigh Anne Tuohy on Thanksgiving 2003 wasn't exactly smooth-sailing. 

"He got in the car and didn't say anything," Tuohy recalled in "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" (via Newsweek). Despite her attempts at getting 16-year-old Oher to share his life story, he'd put up a wall she couldn't break. "We can do this the easy way. Or we can do it the hard way. Take your pick," she told him. Only then did he begin to slowly let her in — at least until she took him clothes shopping, and he coiled back to his shell. Oher let her choose clothes for him without so much as a word. Once again, he had to be coerced into revealing which pieces he had interest in. Not only was Oher oddly mum, but his body language also showed discomfort. "I could tell he wasn't used to being touched," Tuohy revealed. "The first time I tried to touch him — he just freezes up."

Two things, however, were certain. First, Oher was concerned about Tuohy's safety and assured her of protection since they were shopping in a part of Memphis only he was familiar with. Second, as Oher often stated, he eventually did feel very comfortable with the Tuohy family, even expressing gratitude toward them during a 2023 "Mississippi Public Broadcasting" interview.

He lost touch with his biological mother

Biologically, Michael Oher is the sixth child in a family of 12 children. At first, his relationship with his birth mother, Denise Oher, was that of a loving parent. However, during an appearance on "Piers Morgan Tonight" in 2011, Michael admitted they were not as close. "It's not like it used to be," he revealed. "She loved all the kids while we were growing up, and hopefully in the future it'll be where it once was and she's gonna try to do her best to get on track, and hopefully we'll have the type of bond that we once had."

Denise, on the other hand, reflected on parenting in a 2017 chat with WATE-TV. "With drugs bringing up my children, we was here and there, but we was all together. Ain't never no loss," she said. At the time, Denise was recollecting pieces of her life, noting, "I haven't had any drugs in 6 years. Ain't had nothing to drink in three years. So I am on the right path." 

Denise also corroborated Michael's previous revelation that they weren't in each other's lives. When asked about his mother's difficult past, Michael told Morgan she was influenced by her surroundings — he therefore didn't find her at fault. That said, he explained to USA Today in 2009 of their estrangement, "For someone to keep doing the same thing, which got all of her kids taken away, it kind of breaks your heart."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Michael Oher's recovery from a concussion took two years

The Carolina Panthers announced they'd dropped Michael Oher from the team in a July 2017 statement shared on their website. Oher had suffered a concussion after playing in just three games of the 2016 season and was on injury reserve for months before his official release. According to the team's head coach, Ron Rivera, Oher's health was of great priority. Following the announcement, Oher shared a tweet that urged his followers to handle their brains with care.

In an interview with People years later, he disclosed that his recovery took a long time, and that his contract was terminated when he wasn't ready to leave the NFL just yet. "I wanted to keep playing but it took me a couple years to get healthy," Oher told the publication in 2021. "It took me about two years to get healthy, to think again, and to make things happen again."

Oher's dismissal from the Panthers was a familiar script which had unfortunately played out the same when he was a Tennessee Titans right tackle. His four-year deal with the Titans was reportedly cut short when he had a toe injury in 2014.

The NFL alum sought therapy for his mental health

Even though Michael Oher's past was behind him, he couldn't run from the psychological aftermath of his childhood experiences. "I'm still traumatized and I still deal with things that I dealt with as a kid," Oher shared in a 2021 interview with People. He had sought professional help and urged others who had similar challenges to do the same. "If you're still dealing with trauma, [therapy] is definitely needed early on, because I had to do that to get back healthy." The former athlete also insisted on the importance of asking for support, as opposed to holding onto internal turmoil, which could hinder one's growth over time.

When he exited the NFL and was working on his post-concussion recovery, Oher had to tap back into the optimism he had as a child to get through the difficult time. "I built my foundation on just being positive through every struggle," he said in an August 2023 chat with "Good Morning America." "... I had to start building good days on top of good days again. I really went back to the foundation and that hopeful attitude again." Additionally, he credited a circle of trusted confidants with coming to his aid when the odds were stacked against him.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Michael Oher launched a charity app

Michael Oher initiated the GoodDeeds app in March 2021 through his Oher Foundation. Its purpose was to create a link between people in need and neighbors with a giving spirit. App users had to make profiles and indicate whether they lacked necessities or had excess to give away. Through a post on Facebook, Oher shared that the move was inspired by his own impoverished background. "I grew up in an environment that kids shouldn't have to grow up in," the former NFL star said, noting that he lacked some basic necessities throughout his childhood. "I was labeled a miracle, and it shouldn't be that way." 

The timing of the GoodDeeds app launch coincided with the world's recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic struck — and this was a factor Oher and his team had taken into consideration. "So many people are in need. So many people are struggling, and they don't know where to find that shirt or those socks ... or essential something that they need everyday," he empathetically stated. 

In April 2022, Oher made the announcement that the GoodDeeds app was taken down in order to pave the way for an easier model to access those who needed help. At the time of writing, he's yet to let his followers in on the next step.

He wasn't happy with bits of The Blind Side movie

Although his story was remarkable and grabbed audiences' attention to the tune of millions, some aspects of "The Blind Side" weren't all that factual, according to the film's subject: Michael Oher. In the former NFL star's 2023 interview with "The Jim Rome Show," he revealed how he was mostly irked by the fact that his cognitive skills were downplayed. "I think the biggest [flaw] for me is being portrayed [as] not being able to read or write," he said. "... When you go into a locker room and your teammates don't think that you can learn a Playbook, that weighs heavy on someone."

Oher's 2023 book "When Your Back's Against the Wall: Fame, Football, and Lessons Learned through a Lifetime of Adversity" similarly comments on the movie glossing over the difficulties he'd already overcome at such a young age, writing of meeting the Tuohy family: "It made it look like I was sitting there waiting for a handout." Oher has also observed that the depiction of his character in the movie as a player with a laid-back personality was far from reality. He aggressively put his best foot forward in school and as an athlete, and a bulk of the dues he paid behind-the-scenes were untold. In a 2008 conversation with The New York Times, Oher's Ole Miss Rebel coach, Houston Nutt, confirmed that — unlike Oher's character — Oher didn't take breaks from playing physically.

However, Oher also credited the film for giving him a public boost on "The Jim Rome Show."

Who's on Michael Oher's playlist?

On a lighter note, Michael Oher appreciates good music. When he was still a Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle, he had an interview with NPR while promoting his 2011 book "I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond." His chat with the outlet unveiled a love for rap. "My go-to song if I'm going to — getting ready for a game — is probably Tupac 'No More Pain,'" Oher shared, adding that he loved the "Poetic Justice" actor for the topics he addressed. "... Another favorite song is probably by Tupac as well. It's 'Dear Mama,'" Oher revealed. He pointed out that the song's message represented what numerous mother-son relationships looked like, many of which he had been a witness. It was a dynamic he also had personal experience with, as previously mentioned.

Last but not least, "Touchdown" rapper Yo Gotti featured on Oher's playlist. He identified with him because they share a hometown. Yo Gotti's lyrics, the NFL alum explained, were familiar since he'd also lived through them. Oher's criteria for music preference, therefore, seems highly based on relatability.

He married his long-term partner in 2022

In November 2022, Michael Oher and his partner of 17 years, Feminish Collection owner Tiffany Roy, walked down the aisle in Nashville, Tennessee. Oher, who'd documented the big day on Instagram, had asked Roy for her hand in marriage in July 2021, and an ecstatic Roy couldn't help but gush over their wedding when People caught up with newlyweds.

The pair's angelic celebration featured cocktail hour for their guests, a ballerina show, and a coordinated opening dance by the bridal party. Furthermore, the lovebirds had a white three-flavored, feather-decorated, seven-tier wedding cake which added oomph to an already magnificent ballroom. But as the bride shared with the outlet, "The most magical part was our vows. To hear Mike express his feelings in front of 200-plus people was astonishing and romantic. I really felt like a true Queen."

The couple, who have two biological children together (son MJ and daughter Naivi), are college sweethearts who first met while studying at Ole Miss. Oher is also stepfather to Roy's children from a previous relationship, daughter Kierstin and son Kobi, the latter of whom walked his mom down the aisle. For her part, Roy showed adoration for Oher for being the ultimate family man, telling People, "He puts me first no matter what he has on his schedule for the day he makes sure his family is taken care of. I love his love for his family and our kids."

Michael Oher sued the Tuohy family

On August 14, 2023, Michael Oher sued the Tuohy family, per ESPN. According to the publication, Oher has alleged that the Tuohys had him sign a conservatorship agreement under the guise of adoption in August 2004, just a few months after his 18th birthday. The ex-offensive linesman further claimed that the Tuohy family reaped millions in royalties off of "The Blind Side" movie while he never made a cent even though he was the primary inspiration behind the story. 

The Tuohys had allegedly kept the details of Oher's conservatorship secret for years. "Michael Oher discovered this lie to his chagrin and embarrassment in February of 2023," the petition reads in part, "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."

Should Oher win his case against the Tuohys, they potentially stand to lose a lot. When asked about the alleged deception by The Daily Memphian (via the Los Angeles Times), Sean Tuohy claimed his family received no proceeds from "The Blind Side" and only got a portion of revenue from Michael Lewis' book. "We're devastated," Tuohy said. "It's upsetting to think we would make money off any of our children. But we're going to love Michael at 37 just like we loved him at 16."