Football player Michael Oher’s life story was given the Hollywood treatment in 2009 and made into a hit movie, The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock. But fast-forward six years to 2015, and Oher decided that it was time to give his own version of events.
The Blind Side was a tremendous success commercially, bringing in over $300 million. It was also a hit with the critics and the powers that be in Tinseltown. Sandra Bullock was the star, and she received a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her portrayal of Oher’s adoptive mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy.
It’s not too hard to see why the film did so well. Its central themes of love, redemption and perseverance are hallmarks of all great sporting movies. The film was adapted from the 2006 book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which followed the life of Michael Oher from homelessness to adoption and then to football stardom. His character arc was undoubtedly the stuff of dreams for LA executives on the lookout for their next feel-good motion picture.
But when a film is made based on the lives of actual people, there are always going to be different – and often conflicting – opinions about what actually happened and how events were portrayed. Quinton Aaron was the actor chosen to portray Michael Oher, and he admittedly had big shoes to fill.
In reality, Oher’s life certainly started in sad circumstances. You see, he had no responsible parental role models and being one of 12 kids, Oher probably felt somewhat adrift. He was subsequently fostered by various caregivers before encountering Leigh Anne Tuohy as a teenager.
Thankfully, the Tuohys then took Oher in and became his new family. He went on to attend the University of Mississippi, where he played college football. Then, in 2009 the Baltimore Ravens picked Oher, and he joined the ranks of the National Football League.
And the rest is a real American dream come true. But although his story was ripe for adaptation, it would seem that Oher hasn’t been too happy with the movie’s representation of his sporting abilities – or the impact the film has had on his career.
Oher even went so far as to write a book on the matter, penning an autobiography in 2011 named I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond. In doing so, he tried to right the perceived wrongs done by the sugar-coated cinematic version of his life.
According to ESPN, ahead of the Super Bowl in 2013, Oher spoke to the press about the subject. “I’m tired of the movie,” he said. “I’m here to play football.” Which he did – Baltimore went on to win. When the time came to re-sign, however, Oher found that there was no longer a home for him with the Ravens.
But in 2014 things looked up again. Oher signed a massive deal with the Tennessee Titans that contracted him for five years. Unfortunately, though, his fortunes soon declined. Indeed, Oher was let go from his contract due to a debilitating toe injury. He then had foot surgery and signed with a new team in 2015 – the Carolina Panthers.
ESPN’s David Newton has followed Oher’s progression closely. And talking to him in 2015, Oher did not mince his words. He said that The Blind Side “has nothing to do with football. It’s something else off the field. That’s why I don’t like that movie.’’
“People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie,” Oher added. “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.”
Seemingly, Oher is upset that people now look at him and see the sob story, instead of the sportsman. “That’s taken away from my football,’’ he said. “That’s why people criticize me. That’s why people look at me every single play.’’ There is undeniably extra scrutiny on Oher, due to the wider fame that the movie has brought him.
For instance, when Oher was involved in a scuffle with fellow footballer Kony Ealy, news outlets certainly noticed. And there’s little doubt that Oher is aware of the increased scrutiny that he’s under. “I’m getting watched for everything,” he said.
But following this rather downbeat interview, things started to improve for Oher. Although he doesn’t have much of a relationship with his biological mother, Denise Oher, she is now reportedly clean and sober. So, maybe their relationship could be patched up in the future.
ESPN’s David Newton penned another piece about Michael Oher a year later, in 2016. And in it he reported some good news. Oher had thrived in Carolina and the Panthers decided to extend his contract by three more years. They even went to the Super Bowl, although they lost to the Denver Broncos.
As everything was going so well, Oher had planned to stay with the team until retirement. But fate – or the curse of the film, perhaps – had other ideas. Oher was in fact released by the Panthers just one year later, due to concussion-related issues.
Now that Oher has a big media presence, he will almost certainly have become more aware of the pressures and responsibilities that come with fame. Hopefully he can find a balance in his life and be both the talent from the football field and the inspirational personality from the film script.
After all, the athlete’s story reached plenty of viewers far beyond the world of regular NFL fans. And judging by the film’s success, it’s clear that they were able to rejoice in his amazing tale.
Playing in the NFL must be tough on the body, so perhaps in the future Oher will embrace his media persona more and possibly move into punditry. He has much to offer on and off the pitch, so there should always be an audience for him.