Michael Oher may be the only Super Bowl champion better known for his role as a fictional character in a film than for his accomplishment of winning the Super Bowl as a football player. Sandra Bullock is a tough act to follow.
Before Oher spent eight years in the National Football League, he was one of the topics of the book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, written by the renowned author Michael Lewis in 2006. Oher was later the primary focus of the film adaptation of the book, The Blind Side. Oher’s rise from a homeless youth to a Division I All-American left tackle for Ole Miss was chronicled in the film “Homeless to All-American,” written by John Lee Hancock and directed by him.
The movie was such a huge success that it grossed over $300 million at the box office. It also earned Sandra Bullock an Academy Award, even though it embellished several aspects of Oher’s real-life narrative. The true narrative is, in some respects, even more, incredible than the account depicted in the film.
Oher’s birth parents were troubled addicts
Oher was born in the year 1986, which was smack dab in the thick of the crack cocaine epidemic that raced through the inner cities of the United States. He was one of 12 children born to a woman who had been addicted to the low-cost and highly addictive opioid, which put him on a path fraught with difficulties from the very beginning of his life. Denise, his mother, suffered from addiction for many years while growing up his biological father vanished when he was little.
“When my mother was off drugs and working, she would remember to buy groceries, and there would be a mad scramble to grab whatever you could before anyone else got to it,” he wrote in his memoir, published in 2014. “When my mother was off drugs and working, she would remember to buy groceries.”
The difficulty was that she was rarely off drugs and working, which resulted in Oher leading a nomadic lifestyle from a young age. In the latter part of his first year of elementary school, Oher and his siblings were taken away by child protective services from their mother’s home. After that, he frequently moved between foster families, the couches of his friends, and anywhere else he could find a safe place to lay his head.
Oher barely made it to school due to the lack of adult supervision or consistency in his life; he had to repeat both first and second grade, attended nine different schools for 11 years, and missed hundreds of school days per year, even when he was promoted to the next grade. When he was 11 years old, he moved into a housing project known as Hurt Village, where he remained until he started high school. This was the most stable home he had.
Oher lived with a local sports program director named Tony Henderson when he was 15. Henderson had an extra room in his house so Oher could stay there. Oher already stood 6-foot-5 inches tall and weighed 350 pounds, which made him an ideal candidate for drug dealers looking to bulk up their operations.
As he was affectionately known, Big Mike accompanied Tony and his son Steven to the nearby Briarcrest Christian School despite though admissions officers at more prestigious private schools were less likely to be interested in him as a student candidate.
“He wasn’t a youngster who got into trouble or anything like that,” the speaker said. Henderson stated this to ABC News at a later time. “He was really reticent, and to tell you the truth, he just kept to himself.”
Because he was so reserved, the admissions committee at Briarcrest was hard-pressed to come up with a good justification to accept him into the school, let alone give him a scholarship. Oher had spent his entire life just trying to make ends meet, so enrolling in a prestigious but pricey private school was never really on his radar. According to the tests, his reading comprehension level was closer to that of elementary school, and he had an IQ that barely breached 80. He scarcely talked at all during the interviews.
A chance trip to a prestigious private school changed his life… eventually
Despite this, the high school football coach was interested in Oher as a potential player for the squad and a redemptive tale. He explained to the school president and principal that this was a child who had never been given a fighting chance, and he did so to make a case for a very substantial exception to the standard admissions process.
Oher was given a challenge by the school’s principal, Steve Simpson, who had some feelings of sympathy for the student. Simpson told Oher that if he improved his grades at another private school, he would be eligible to enroll in the far more prestigious Briarwood the following semester.
Within a short period, Simpson had a change of heart and agreed to let Oher enroll at his institution. However, entering Briarwood was not a miracle cure and did not immediately cause noticeable changes. The child did not belong there; he was awkward, bashful, and significantly behind.
At this point, the movie and reality started to become more different. Before Oher ever met the Tuohy family in 2003, he participated in three sports: basketball, track and field, and football. In actuality, he spent his first few years at school couch-surfing at the homes of his fellow students and foster families. Before being taken in by an extremely affluent and generous family, the character of Oher, portrayed in the film by Quinton Aaron, is completely homeless and has nothing to do with athletics.
The Tuohys are devout Christians, so their decision to take Oher in caused some consternation in their neighborhood. However, it didn’t take long for the two families to form a close bond, even though things didn’t turn out precisely as depicted in the film.
In the movie “The Blindside,” Sandra Bullock plays the role of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the loud matriarch of the family, and the wife of Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw), a former collegiate basketball player and affluent fast food entrepreneur. Bullock portrays Tuohy as the outspoken matriarch of the family.
However, in reality, Sean noticing Oher on the sidelines at the gym prompted their involvement in his life. The movie suggests that their young son S.J.’s mismatched schoolyard friendship with Oher is the catalyst for their involvement in his life; however, this is not the case.
It’s a somewhat insignificant detail, but it had a domino effect throughout the film and ultimately led to Oher’s significant dissatisfaction with how his narrative was portrayed on the big screen. The fictionalized version of Oher becomes a dominant force in high school football, just as he did in real life. However, two points of controversy are how this occurred and the timetable that his growth adhered to.
Oher wrote these words in his biography, I Beat the Odds, which was published in 2014. “I felt that it depicted me as dumb instead of as a youngster who had never had continuous academic training and ended up excelling once he got it,” Oher explained. “Quinton Aaron did a fantastic job portraying the role, but I was baffled as to why the director chose to portray me in the film as someone who needed to be instructed in how to play football. When I watched those situations, I said, “No, that’s not me!” Whether it was S.J. moving around ketchup bottles or Leigh Anne explaining what blocking is about, I thought those scenes. Since I was a kid, I’ve been studying the game and doing it ever since!’ That was the primary problem I had with the movie.”
Football dominance opened up new doors
Soon after he had first met Oher, Sean made arrangements for him to have a permanent cafeteria account so that he would be able to have lunch daily. Eventually, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, Oher’s family ran into him while he was out strolling by himself in the rain while wearing the only pair of shorts he owned. Oher was heading in the direction of nowhere in particular. They decided to provide him with a place to stay for the weekend, which ultimately became a more permanent arrangement.
It was decided to engage a tutor. It was decided to buy some new clothes. However, by the time she had grown up and had children of her own, including a daughter named Collins, who was in high school at the same time as Oher, Leigh Anne had moved past that retrograde upbringing and admitted to The New York Times that she had been raised by a racist father to be a racist herself. Leigh Anne directly made this admission. Oher eventually settled in and became a full-fledged member of the Tuohy family, despite some initial awkwardness.
Football scouts travel all across the country in search of the best young players. In the process, they rack up hundreds of thousands of miles on their automobiles and stop in cities that aren’t typically on their route because of an odd report or rumor about a young player with some talent. Oher had virtually no reputation when he first started playing football at Briarcrest because he lacked formal education or athletic training. However, that quickly changed; after he polished his game on the football field, it became evident that he was exceptional.
During the spring of 2004, universities from all across the South came to visit him in the hopes of recruiting him. Later in the film, prominent coaches made cameo appearances, highlighting the immense interest in Oher’s ability. He was named to the First Team of the Preseason All-American Team at left tackle, which is considered one of the most significant positions on the offensive side of the ball other than quarterback.
The movie gives the impression that Oher was not as close to Hugh Freeze, the head coach, as he was since Oher spent a lot of time with Freeze and his family both on and off the field. Even going so far as to claim that Freeze’s daughters were “exactly like my sisters,” which clearly indicates how many families were eager to adopt him, demonstrates the level of interest. (Freeze would eventually step down as head coach at Ole Miss following a personal scandal, but Oher would have Oher’s back even then.)
Oher became a football star in college
Because both of the Tuohys had attended the University of Mississippi, Oher’s desire to do the same was complex, at least in the eyes of the NCAA, because he would follow in their footsteps. Because of the hardships he had had over the years and the time he spent away from school, his academic record was, at best, poor. This made it challenging for him to enroll in the school initially. However, he improved his grades to the point where he could get his degree and gain admission to the institution by taking some classes through the mail and receiving private tutoring.
Instantly successful, he was named to the First Team of the Freshman All-Americans in his first year, then to the Second Team and then the First Team of the Southeastern Conference in his sophomore and junior years, and lastly to the First Team of the All-Americans in his senior year in 2008.
At that time, his history was completely irrelevant to his playing skills, which manifestly stood on their own without needing any explanation. The novel written by Lewis was released in 2006, while the film adaptation did not arrive in theaters until 2009, shortly after the Baltimore Ravens had selected Oher in the first round (23rd overall).
Throughout his career, the attention he received from the film was, if anything, increasingly irritating to him. Getting into the National Football League and maintaining a spot in the league is difficult enough without the added burden of having a blockbuster movie that won an Oscar about your life garner international attention to your first season in the league.
The attention from ‘The Blind Side’ often overshadowed his career in the NFL
The film would continue to follow him throughout his career, filled with highs and lows at various points. Playing in the National Football League (NFL) is extremely challenging, and staying in the league for more than a few years is extremely uncommon — careers only last a little bit longer than three years on average. Not all that time, if any of it is spent at all, is generally spent as a starter on a winning team.
In 2015, while he was nearing the end of his career, he said, “People look at me, and they take everything away from me because of a movie.” They don’t see my qualities or the type of player I am. Because of something that happened off the field, my performance is consistently rated lower. This nonsense, including people labeling me a bust and questioning whether or not I can play, has nothing to do with football. It’s something completely unrelated to the game at hand. That is the reason why I do not enjoy watching that movie.
Oher was a starter for the Ravens in 2013 and went to another Super Bowl in 2016, so it’s not like he didn’t have any success in his career. He won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2013. He had a tremendous career in the National Football League (NFL), where he played for eight years, which is a great career for anyone, but especially for someone from his background. The Ravens were able to get more value out of a late first-round pick than they ever imagined possible.
Because of the difficulties he had playing with post-concussion syndrome, the Carolina Panthers cut Oher loose in the summer of 2017, which ultimately led to the conclusion of his career in the National Football League (NFL). He is currently a well-known advocate and public speaker.
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