Michael Oher Gets Blindsided And Tricked Into Signing A Conservatorship
Michael Oher, the retired NFL player whose inspiring life story was depicted in The Blind Side, has alleged that he was tricked into signing documents appointing his caretakers as his conservators, depriving him of his name, image, and likeness, along with millions of dollars from the rights to the book and film based on his life.
Oher claims that the Tuohy family, who took him into their home as a senior in high school, ran a scheme to exploit his story and career. As conservators, the Tuohys secured a deal with 20th Century Studios that granted them $225,000 and 2.5% of future profits from the movie, while Oher received nothing.
Oher is petitioning the court to terminate the conservatorship, demand a full accounting of all records, and order the Tuohys to relinquish all funds earned through the exploitation of his name and story.
Oher As A Teenager
As a top football prospect in the US, Michael Oher was invited by the Tuohys, a family he had stayed with before, to live with them full-time during his senior year of high school.
Upon his arrival, they presented him with legal papers, which he thought were for the adoption process. However, they were actually documents that gave the Tuohys "total control" over his ability to make any contracts or negotiate any deals while the conservatorship was in place, even though he had no physical or psychological disabilities.
A Tennessee judge approved their petition to become Oher's conservators in 2004, stating that he required "supervision, protection, and assistance" and that he couldn't make contract decisions alone. They held this role until the conservatorship was terminated, with the Tuohys represented by their close friend Debbie Branan.
A Statement From The Filing
“At no point did the Tuohys inform Michael that they would have ultimate control of all his contracts, and as a result Michael did not understand that if the Conservatorship was granted, he was signing away his right to contract for himself,” states the filing. “Michael was falsely advised by the Tuohys that because he was over the age of eighteen, that the legal action to adopt Michael would have to be called a ‘conservatorship’ but it was, for all intents and purposes, an adoption.”
Under the conservatorship, Oher lost the ability to handle his own financial and legal affairs, which he would’ve kept had he been adopted.
The Famous Book Becomes A Movie
In 2006, a book called The Blind Side: Evolution of the Game was published based on Michael Oher's life. After the book's release, the Tuohy family, who were featured in the book, allegedly began contract negotiations with 20th Century Studios regarding their personal rights to a movie adaptation. The family secured $225,000 and 2.5% of all future "defined net proceeds" for the film. All four family members, including the children, are mentioned in the contract.
However, Oher claims he received nothing for his rights to a $330 million story that would not have existed without him. The contract listed a representative from Creative Artists Agency as the point of contact for the family, but Oher's conservatorship representative, Branan, is listed as the agent to receive payment notices for him. The terms of the deal are unclear, but it is unusual for studios and producers to offer participation points on a life rights deal. Michael Lewis authored the book, and it is unclear if he was involved in the contract negotiations.
Oher also points to a $200,000 donation made by Alcon Entertainment, the production company behind The Blind Side, to the Tuohy family's foundation, Making It Happen. This donation was allegedly triggered by an amendment to the contract.
Additionally, there is a deal where the Tuohys allegedly signed away, without compensation, the exclusive rights to Oher's name, image, and personal experiences to Fox. Oher claims the signature on the document may have been forged.
How The Movie Affected His NFL Career
Michael Oher, famously portrayed in the 2009 drama by Quinton Aaron, has been vocal about his dissatisfaction with the movie's portrayal of him as mentally challenged. Oher believes that this portrayal has adversely affected his NFL career.
Oher, who was one of twelve children, grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. When he was only ten years old, the state took him into custody. During his junior year at Briarcrest Christian School, Oher earned first-string honors for the all-state game. He also received scholarship offers from football powerhouses across the nation and was selected to play in the Army All-American Bowl. Throughout this time, Oher occasionally stayed with the Tuohys.
“Where other parents of Michael’s classmates saw Michael simply as a nice kid in need, Conservators Sean Tuohy and Leigh Ann Tuohy saw something else: a gullible young man whose athletic talent could be exploited for their own benefit,” the filing states.
Sean Touhy's Comment
Speaking to the Daily Memphian, Sean Tuohy denied that he and his wife made any money from The Blind Side, only that they had a share in profits from Lewis’ book, and that he was shocked by the allegations in the suit. “We’re devastated,” Sean Tuohy told the Daily Memphian. “It’s upsetting to think we would make money off any of our children. But we’re going to love Michael at 37 just like we loved him at 16.”