While most of us do not see offensive linemen as anything more than the numbers on their backs, helmets, and shoulder pads, this is not the case for Michael Oher. Following the blockbuster film about his life, the man who has become one of the most well-known athletes of his time has finally decided to set the record straight.
With a mother who had an illegal substance addiction and a father who was murdered in prison, Michael’s life was not always one to be envied.
One Of Twelve Kids
In a 20/20 interview Michael explained how, despite having a mother with a serious substance abuse problem, he managed to get through. “She wasn’t really around too much,” Michael confessed. Looking pained, he then said, “I took care of myself most of the time.” As one of 12 kids, Michael had to learn how to bounce back on his feet despite living in a broken home in Hurt Village, which is a housing project situated in a crime-ridden area in North Memphis.
Because Oher’s alcoholic mother neglected her children, by the time Michael turned 7-years-old, he was placed in foster care. He was not disciplined from a young age nor was he given much attention, which is most likely why he never stuck around in the same foster home for too long and had several periods of homelessness. It seemed as though Michael was heading towards a slippery slope, that is, until auto mechanic Tony Henderson enrolled him at school.
Not Given Enough Credit
Michael Oher had his life chronicles in the 2006 best-selling book titled The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by author Michael Lewis. The book was later adapted into a movie titled The Blind Side. The film, despite priding itself in depicting true events, featured some tweaks in order to dramatize the plot. One of these tweaks was the character of Tony Hamilton (real name is Tony Henderson), who Oher felt was not credited enough for taking him under his wing and putting him in school.
A Good Kid
“He was a good kid,” Tony recalled during one interview. “He was real quiet and especially stayed to himself.” But considering the negative influences in his life, the fact Michael was a kind individual is shocking. He attended 11 schools in nine years, skipped classes and did poorly academically. “It was easy for me to say, ‘I’m going to hang out with these guys and not go to school,'” Michael said, “but I decided I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to be something in life.”
School Changed His Life
Once Michael was admitted into Briarcrest Christian School, which went by an alternative name in the film due to “artistic licensing,” he easily stood out of the crowd. He was larger than other kids his age and seemed out of place. This is why Collins Tuohy noticed Michael in the first place, and the 15-year-old just had to share the news of the new, low key, large sized boy in her class with her father, Sean.
Hungry And Alone
Sean wanted to know more about Michael, and what started as a spark of curiosity would result with the beginning of the next chapter of Michael’s life. Following him around, Sean realized Michael would regularly skip lunch at school since he didn’t have any money to buy something to eat. Appalled by the thought the boy would go by hungry, Sean made a conscious decision to start paying for Michael’s lunches, which he ended up doing every day.
During the film, Michael’s teacher Mrs. Boswell (real name: Marilyn Beasley) is seen reading Michael’s essay, which he titled “White Walls.” Many people who watched movie questioned the essay’s credibility since it struck many as fitting with the usual Hollywood tearjerker. Michael admitted the poem recited was written by him, only he shared it with the rest of the class during his senior year, whereas the movie made it seem as though he read it in front of everyone during his first few days at school.
Not Exactly True
The real Leigh Anne Tuohy, wife of Sean and mother of Collins, admitted that “there were a few artistic liberties taken” in the scene which Michael Oher was seen walking sadly in the rain wearing nothing but a polo shirt and shorts while carrying a plastic bag that contained all of his belongings. In the film, Leigh Anne was seen marching over to Mike and demanding that he would come spend the night in their home once hearing of his news to find shelter in the school gym. However…
The Eventful Thanksgiving Break
The version much closer to reality was that it was a cold morning during Thanksgiving break the day Leigh Anne spotted Mike walking around aimlessly. He was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, the same ones she has seen him wear every day to school, which was particularly heartbreaking due to the fact it was snowing out. Leigh Anne approached Mike, but didn’t offer him a place to stay on the spot, but rather cornered him into going shopping with her on the following day.
Despite the film version, Mike did not have a 180-degree transformation going from living in the streets to staying with the Tuohys. In reality, he continued to stay with Tony Henderson for several months, then went on to live with at least five different families. It was only when his coaches realized he had no home to return to that he winded up at the Tuohys’. “He’d stay here once in a while and then he’d leave,” said Sean, “and then he seemed more comfortable to stay.”
“I Felt Loved”
“When I moved in with Leigh Anne and Sean, I felt loved, like part of a family,” said Michael Oher in the same interview he gave 20/20. “In the other houses, I didn’t feel like part of the family. I didn’t feel like they wanted me there,” he said. Michael was 16-years-old when he was welcomed into the home of Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, but fortunately for him, it seemed as though fate was saving him the best for last.
Never Had It Before
Moving into the Tuohys’ residence meant more than just having a roof above Mike’s head. For the first time in his life, he got to experience something his former living situation of sharing a home with his 11 siblings did not enable – and that is having a bed of his own. Much like the movie scene, Leigh Anne bought Mike a futon to sleep on, but the act was more than a nice gesture. The futon was specifically chosen since Sean stressed that is what large pro athletes usually use.
Heavy Is An Understatement
“Big Mike” was the nickname he was granted by the people he grew up with, and it was not in vain. At 15, Michael was already 6″2 and weighed around 350 pounds, and come 2010, he was listed as 6″4 and weighing 309 pounds in the Baltimore Ravens NFL team database. Quinton Aaron, who played Oher on The Blind Side, was 6″8 and 472 pounds, which was a little bit of a stretch from the real Mike, but overall assisted in portraying an accurate image of what it’s like being such a big guy at a young age.
Hated His Name
Mike was very much aware of his weight and physical condition, but that did not make being commonly referred to as a heavy guy any easier. In the movie, Michael is seen talking to Leigh Anne and saying he hated being called “Big Mike,” to which she responded with a promise she will always refer to him by his first name. When asked about that particular moment, the real Michael Oher told the press the scene was very real, and that he despises his nickname.
That Was A Lie
As for the scene in which Leigh Anne is seen marching over to Mike while he’s on the field and selling him a story about protecting his team, that bit was completely made up. Michael explained that although he understands the Hollywood twist of it all, it upset him that he was being portrayed as someone who was clueless: “That part right there, it really got me because it was never like that. I’ve always known how to play the game of football.”
Upset He Was Downsized
He continued by saying: “I’ve always had a passion for the game. You know, it’s Hollywood, so I mean that’s what they do, but at the end of the day it’s still a good story.” As for the his passion and aggression during the game, Oher explained some things cannot be staged: “I’ve always had that fire and passion in me on the field. You can’t put aggression into a person. It’s impossible. Either you have that toughness and aggression, or you don’t.”
Although he knew plenty about the game, Michael did have a serious issue when it came to controlling his anger. While the movie showed a calm, mature Mike who ignored those who slurred racist comments towards him during the games, in real life, Oher flipped them the bird. And during that epic scene in which a Munford defensive end lined up across from Mike and gave him his piece of mind about his appearance and weight, Michael carried him off the field and into his bus, just like in the movie.
Thankfully, Oher was not always mistreated for his race and weight. Collins Tuohy elaborated on how accepting her friends were of the guy who was more than twice their size but still rather kept to himself, saying: “My friends were very open to Michael. They were very sweet to him, and we all got along really well.” This meant a lot, coming from someone who was an honor student and made an effort to rearrange her entire schedule to help Michael settle in. Collins was both Mike’s tutor and friend.
Mind Your Own Business
Leigh Anne had more than Oher to handle when she brought him under her roof. Just like in the film, the strong woman had her closest friends and complete strangers come up to her and question her actions, stating it was a risky game she was playing, putting Michael and Collins in the same house while both were teenagers of the same age. And while raging hormones could have been yet another hurdle along the way, Leigh Anne had the perfect response: “You just need to mind your own business.”
A Question Of Color
“You worry about your own life, and I’ll worry about mine,” said Leigh Anne countless times to those she felt were too intrusive. When Oher’s teenage hormones weren’t being discussed, his race was. Leigh Anne was repeatedly asked if bringing a black teen into her home was a conscious decision, to which she replied: “It had nothing to do with what color Michael was… He was a child that had a need, and it needed to be filled.”
It didn’t take long before Mike was recognized as a football prodigy. When it came to choosing a college that would best serve his interest, suspicion rose concerning how much the Tuohys had to do with the choice made. “Ole Miss was right down the road,” Michael said, “and I figured it would be easier for my family, you know, my friends to get down to Oxford to come see me play.” After receiving more than 1,000 recruitment letters from college football programs, Mike made up his mind.
By 2009, Oher’s name preceded him. Accompanied by his entire adoptive family, Michael stood proudly as the Baltimore Ravens selected him as the 23rd pick in the first round of the NFL draft. His brother, Marcus, wiped away the tears as Mike was told he would enter the league as a starting lineman, which resulted in a signing a $13 million contract. Michael was named NFL’s Rookie of the Month for December that same year and has high hopes of becoming MVP in the future.
Every Day Is A Risk
But staying on top of his game is hard, especially in a field that can cause fatal physical injuries and terminal neurological damage. “Every single day I pick myself up and I work,” said Michael. “I’ve learned not to buy into what other people say. I’ve learned not to put dreams in other people’s hands. I’ve learned to make sacrifices for the team.” He wakes up every day around 5:30 am to kick start his day, but as far as he’s concerned, that is not his biggest sacrifice.
Movie Made Millions
While The Blind Side may have grossed over $300 million, the box office hit affected the NFL player in a way he never anticipated. Panthers safety Kurt Coleman, however, differentiates between the actor and the real man. “He had a great season and is a big part of us,” he said. “He is a kind person and a family man who knows how to balance football. He is the model you want young players to follow on how to balance this game with a personal view of humility.”
Badmouthing The Film
Michael said he always thought of himself as a left tackle, and it would be hard to imagine taking any other role, but he had to step out of his comfort zone several times throughout his seven-year NFL career to fit his teams’ needs. Oher was quoted saying switching from left to right tackle hurt his progress, but it was an adjustment he made for the sake of the team. For that same reason, when Mike felt responsible for the amount of press his team received, he started to badmouth the film.
Nothing To Do With His Game
“I’m not trying to prove anything,” Mike said. “People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie. They don’t really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That’s why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field. This stuff, calling me a bust, people saying if I can play or not… that has nothing to do with football. It’s something else off the field. That’s why I don’t like that movie.”
A Blessing And A Curse
Oher didn’t always think the movie had an unfortunate effect on his career. He flipped from liking The Blind Side to hating it – and now he appreciates it for what it is – a blessing and a curse. It bothered him that he was known for the movie rather than his football skills, which made finding internal peace difficult. However, staying humble and focusing on work assisted in keeping a clear mind all this time. “Most people don’t know that type of stuff about me,” Oher said.
Overshadows His Work
“There was a time in my life early in my NFL career where the movie just seemed to take away from me,” Michael Oher said. “It made it seem like the movie was responsible for my NFL career, not my play, not my hard work. I had to come to terms with that. I don’t talk about it too much because I don’t want the movie to overshadow my work as a hardworking football player. I do know it’s not someone else. I do know it’s a part of me.”
Hopes For The Future
These days, Michael is 31-years-old, and has been recently released as an offensive lineman by the Panthers due to failing his physical designation. “The most important thing is his health,” said Panthers coach Ron Rivera. On a personal level, Oher used his well-earned money to buy his own home in suburban Baltimore. “I definitely came a long way,” said Michael. “Growing up in the projects in some of the roughest parts in Memphis…it was a long road. Every day I’m like, ‘wow, how did I get here?'”