Michael Oher, NFL star who inspired ‘The Blind Side,’ alleges Tuohy family never adopted him

Michael Oher poses in a white Carolina Panthers shirt
Former NFL star Michael Oher, whose life story was the basis for the 2009 film “The Blind Side,” alleges that the Tuohy family never actually adopted him.
(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
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NFL veteran Michael Oher — whose life story was captured in a book that later was adapted into the 2009 Oscar-winning drama “The Blind Side” — has filed a petition in a Tennessee court alleging that his self-proclaimed adoptive parents never actually adopted him.

Instead, the 37-year-old alleged, the couple duped him into signing a legal document in 2004 that made them his conservators, according to a copy of the court filing obtained Monday by The Times. The legal arrangement gave Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy “total control over Michael Oher’s ability to negotiate for or enter any contract, despite the fact that he was over 18 years of age and had no diagnosed physical or psychological disabilities.”

The former Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers tackle filed a 14-page petition in Shelby County, Tenn., probate court on Monday alleging that the Tuohys tricked him into signing the document, which he believed was a necessary step in his adoption process when the couple took him in as a teenager. The arrangement gave the Tuohys legal authority to make business deals in the athlete’s name, including those involved in the movie that earned Sandra Bullock an Oscar.


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Describing Oher as “a gullible young man whose athletic talent could be exploited for their own benefit,” the athlete’s attorney argued that the Tuohys used their power as conservators to strike a deal that paid them and their two birth children millions of dollars in royalties from the film, which earned $309 million worldwide.

The 2009 film was based on Michael Lewis’ 2006 book “The Blind Side: The Evolution of the Game.” The film was adapted and directed by John Lee Hancock and starred Quinton Aaron as Oher. It was billed as the remarkable true story of the football star, featuring Bullock as the spitfire mom who literally plucked the homeless Memphis teen off the road on an icy winter night. The family is credited with helping Oher become an All-American player at Ole Miss and a 2009 first-round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens.

However, Oher said in his filing that he gave the rights to his life story away to 20th Century Fox in 2007 “without any payment whatsoever” and that he didn’t discover the nature of the 2004 conservatorship petition until February of this year.

“The lie of Michael’s adoption is one upon which Co-Conservators Leigh Anne Tuohy and Sean Tuohy have enriched themselves at the expense of their Ward, the undersigned Michael Oher,” the filing said. “Michael Oher discovered this lie to his chagrin and embarrassment in February of 2023, when he learned that the Conservatorship to which he consented on the basis that doing so would make him a member of the Tuohy family, in fact provided him no familial relationship with the Tuohys.”

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According to ESPN, the Tuohys have denied making much money from the movie, saying they received a flat fee for the story and did not reap any of the movie’s profits. And what they did earn, they added, was shared with Oher. The Tuohys have said they divided it five ways, according to their 2010 book, “In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving.” Oher has been public for years about his distaste for the film.

Oher was one of 12 children born to his biological mother and was almost 11 years old when he became a ward of Tennessee‘s Department of Human Services, his petition said. He alleged that the Tuohys took no legal action in juvenile court to assume his legal custody, but told him that they loved him, intended to legally adopt him and encouraged him to call them mom and dad. They have also “falsely and publicly represented themselves” as Oher’s adoptive parents to benefit their own interests, the petition said.


The athlete is asking the court to end the Tuohys’ conservatorship and issue an injunction barring them from using his name, image and likeness, as well as “continuing false claims” that they adopted him at any time.

He’s also seeking a full accounting of the money they earned while using his name and calling themselves his adoptive parents. Oher is seeking his fair share of profits, in addition to unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

Representatives for Leigh Anne Tuohy and the Tuohys’ Making It Happen Foundation were not immediately available to comment Monday.

“I am disheartened by the revelation shared in the lawsuit today,” Oher said in a statement released to a local TV news station in Tennessee. “This is a difficult situation for my family and me.... For now, I will let the lawsuit speak for itself and will offer no further comment.”