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Michael Oher of 'The Blind Side' says the Tuohy family lied about adopting him

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The 2009 film "The Blind Side" was the feel-good film of the year.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BLIND SIDE")

QUINTON AARON: (As Michael Oher) It's mine?

SANDRA BULLOCK: (As Leigh Ann Tuohy) Yes, sir. What?

AARON: (As Michael Oher) Never had one before.

BULLOCK: (As Leigh Ann Tuohy) What, a room to yourself?

AARON: (As Michael Oher) A bed.

BULLOCK: (As Leigh Ann Tuohy) Well, you have one now.

SUMMERS: It's based on Michael Oher's life - the story of a kid who grew up in poverty, who was adopted by a white family - the Tuohys - and, with their help, catapulted into NFL stardom - well, loosely based anyway. Oher disputes a lot of it, like the way the film depicts him as unintelligent. But now, he alleges that, in real life, not the movies, the Tuohy family actually tricked him into signing conservatorship papers shortly after he turned 18, and they went on to make millions of dollars in his name. Michael Fletcher broke the story for ESPN and joins me now. Michael, welcome.

MICHAEL FLETCHER: Good to be here.

SUMMERS: Michael Oher alleges that the Tuohy family has made millions of dollars off of his story and that that's money that has not been shared with him. But in this petition, he also alleges that continuing damage has been done to him. Can you help us understand that part and what he means by that?

FLETCHER: Yeah, well, there were a couple of things. Well, you know, the movie itself and the kind of a couple of storylines merge here. All along, since the movie was made, Oher has kind of been disgruntled about how - as you mentioned, how he was depicted as unintelligent. And he feels like that hurt his NFL career and, even to this day, hurts how he's perceived when people meet him. People assume they know who he is, and they assume that he's not so smart, when actually the opposite is true. He did very well in school once he had a good situation in school and had something of a stable life.

So there's that, but then also there's the deception that he feels from the Tuohys. Like the idea that not only did they not adopt him, but that they exploited him. They used kind of this ruse, he would say, to make money off of his name. And it's a betrayal that I think - you know, that haunts him to this day.

SUMMERS: Mmm. Sean Tuohy alleges that the lawyers contacted by the family said that they weren't able to adopt someone over the age of 18 - that conservatorship was really the only option. And I'm quoting from this article here. Sean Tuohy says, quote, "we were so concerned it was on the up-and-up that we made sure the biological mother came to court," end quote. Do you know, based on your research and reporting, would that have been true in Tennessee back in 2004 when Oher was 18 years old?

FLETCHER: I mean, my understanding is that they would have been able to adopt him. I mean, Mr. Tuohy is right. You could see the mother's signature on the conservatorship document. She did sign that. But it would have been, from what I'm told, perfectly legal for the Tuohys to have adopted him back then. So it's hard, you know, to understand. But I'll say this, the Tuohys have said consistently, you know, going back to the other question about the profits - they claim that the movie didn't yield them a lot of money and that whatever money they had made they had shared with Oher. So it's an interesting dichotomy here. Someone - you know, you have kind of two opposing views of what happened here.

SUMMERS: What is Michael Oher seeking from the judge in this petition that you've been taking a look at?

FLETCHER: Well, it's a couple of things. No. 1, he wants this conservatorship to end. 'Cause it's amazing, even at age 37, this remains in place. And the second thing he's seeking is a full accounting of the money the Tuohys made from "The Blind Side." He says he wants a full accounting and that, once that's done, he wants to be given his fair share of the profits. And he's also hoping that the court imposes punitive damages on the Tuohys.

SUMMERS: So Michael, based on what you've heard and seen, where do you think this goes from here?

FLETCHER: Well, I think we just have to wait and see how it plays out in court. The Tuohys', you know, lawyer told me that they'll be filing - he'll be filing a legal response within days or weeks, you know, sort of giving a formal answer to the complaint, to the petition. And I think we'll have to see, you know, where that goes. I think this is one of those questions that the courts will have to hash out. But it's - one thing I haven't heard yet from the Tuohys is kind of an explanation - a realistic explanation about the adoption, and that seems to be something that really has left Michael Oher in some pain.

SUMMERS: That was ESPN senior writer Michael Fletcher. Michael, thank you.

FLETCHER: Oh, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.
Sarah Handel
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.