If you’ve read “The Blind Side,” you probably think you know Michael Oher.
“People know a lot of things about me,” Oher told The Associated Press while taking a break from meetings with Rams officials in St. Louis. “I can understand why some people might question how smart I might be from reading the book. One thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to get to know me, the type of person I am from being around me, and you’ll say, ‘Wow, this is a great guy. He’s great to be around, has a great personality and he’s just a good kid.’ Once you get to know me, the sky’s the limit.”
Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy realized that shortly after they met Oher. The couple from Memphis, Tenn., took an interest in Oher after learning his story. He was essentially homeless, the son of a drug-addicted mother and a father who was murdered. He wandered from home to home and lived a ghost-like existence, despite his 6-foot-5, 350-pound frame.
When Leigh Anne Tuohy first saw Oher, she immediately decided he needed a coat. She quickly found out he needed so much more.
He was in danger of falling out of an education system that had been passing him along from grade to grade with little regard to whether he was actually learning. It didn’t take much imagination to guess what would happen to Oher without school or the sports he loved to play.
The Tuohys took him into their home, invested in his life and eight years later are nearing the end of an amazing journey. Oher will likely be taken in the first round of the NFL draft on April 25, and Leigh Anne Tuohy has bittersweet emotions about her adopted son’s departure from her home.
“Once he has his own home and establishes his own life, it will probably never be like it is now,” Tuohy said. “We have a unique relationship, so obviously I’m sad. But at the same time I’m ecstatic. I told him at the beginning our kind of motto is, ‘Embrace the journey.’ We’ve made goals and the child has achieved every goal that’s ever been set in front of him.
“I think God must have a tremendous plan for Michael’s life because the path he’s been on hasn’t been by accident. This has all been just such a unique experience that we’ve all been through.”
She believes Oher’s story has a little bit of divine magic in it that positively affects the lives of those who have read it and been inspired by it.
Oher, however, has mixed feelings about the book.
He finally read it about a month ago. He was never really interested in it before—he was there when everything in the book happened, after all. But so many people asked him about it over the years and were puzzled that he hadn’t read it, he decided it was time.
“It was all right,” Oher said. “I don’t have too many complaints. I see where some people reading it might think I’m not as smart, because that’s how the book read. But people write books to sell books, and they’ve got to put some things in it to make it interesting. A person’s not going to buy a boring book.
“Some people don’t understand why you wouldn’t read a book about you. It’s because I’m not interested in that type of stuff. It’s OK, but I’m not like everybody else. People don’t understand that stuff like that doesn’t impress me. I care about playing football. That’s why I’m so much different than everybody. But I went ahead and read it. It was a good book. It did real well in stores. I can’t complain about a book. Really not very many people get a book written about them.”
After reading it, though, Oher feared it might give potential employers a false impression about his intelligence. Lewis spent days and days searching through school district records in Memphis and found a sad tale. Oher essentially had little education, could barely read and had never even been taught how to learn.
Once the Tuohys and a tutor they hired began to work with Oher on those things, though, they were amazed at how quickly he gained speed.
“It was a matter of experience and access,” Sean Tuohy said. “The intelligence was always there. It was just a matter of figuring out what motivated Michael. He was on the honor roll his senior year. Before he was even out of high school, he had already closed the gap.
“He made the chancellor’s list (at Ole Miss). You have to have a 3.5 GPA. He had a 3.7. As I told him, he made it one more time than I did.”
Perception has always lagged behind reality for Oher when it comes to the book. It focuses on a short period in his life. By the time it hit shelves, he had already erased his poor academic history and qualified to enroll at Ole Miss.
There was a time when Oher wished “The Blind Side” had never been written. The book allowed people he’d never met to judge him and his family. There were charges made—mostly by fans of other Southeastern Conference schools—that the Tuohys had simply adopted Oher to steer him toward their alma mater (though Oher says he likely would have gone to LSU instead had Nick Saban not left). And the NCAA even investigated his accelerated coursework.
Yet Oher no longer feels angry. For every negative, there have been positives.
“We have boxes and boxes of letters from people that have adopted kids and done things like this, and every time there’s anything negative, I’ll pull a letter out and read something to him, something that’s just good or positive that’s come out of it,” Leigh Anne Tuohy said. “He’ll say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I can’t forget that.’ He’s typical for a kid that age. You just have to keep reminding him of the good things.”
And there are lots of those. He’s just 14 credit hours shy of a degree. He’s about to reach his biggest goal and will soon have some large paychecks to cash. And a tour to visit with nine NFL teams over the last two weeks has allowed him to show coaches and executives the real Michael Oher.
“I really don’t care what a lot of people think of me,” Oher said. “But I don’t want teams to get a bad impression of me. I want teams to know that this kid has all the ability in the world. I want them to get to know me. Being on these visits they get a chance to get to know me, be around me, see what kind of person I am. Every visit I’ve been on, I feel I’ve made a good impression and left everybody with a positive look at me.”