Exploitation or Shakedown? Breaking Down the Michael Oher-Tuohy Family Drama

Michael Oher, the former NFL player and subject of the 2009 hit movie ‘The Blind Side’, filed a court petition on Monday accusing Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy of profiting off a conservatorship set up for him. The Tuohys claim the allegations are an attempted shakedown.


Michael Oher, the former NFL player and subject of the 2009 hit movie The Blind Side, filed a court petition on Monday accusing Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy of profiting off a conservatorship set up for him. The Tuohys claim the allegations are an attempted shakedown.

  • Oher, a former tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, alleged that the Tuohys lied to him by having him sign papers establishing a conservatorship instead of formally adopting him nearly two decades ago.
  • He petitioned a Tennessee court to terminate the conservatorship and account for any money earned from the use of his name and life story and to be repaid what he feels he is owed, with interest. Oher claims the Tuohys profited at his expense and “falsely and publicly” portrayed themselves as his adoptive parents.
  • According to his legal filing, Oher claims to have “discovered this lie” in February 2023 and requested the court impose sanctions on the Tuohys and force them to pay him damages.
  • Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy said Wednesday that they intend to agree to a consent order to end the conservatorship. Their attorneys said the allegations are “devastating for the family.” and that Oher knew full well that he had not been adopted.
  • Oher and the Tuohys have been estranged for more than ten years. During that time, family attorney Steve Farese said that Oher has become “more and more vocal and more and more threatening” despite refusing to cash the profit participation checks the Tuohys sent him. The family says they deposited his share into a trust account for Oher’s children.
  • The couple called his claims “outlandish,” “hurtful,” “absurd,” and part of a “shakedown.” They alleged in a statement that Oher threatened to plant a negative story about them in the press unless they paid him $15 million. While they hope to one day reconcile with Oher, “In the meantime, however, they will not hesitate to defend their good names, stand up to this shakedown and defeat this offensive lawsuit,” their statement read.
  • Oher moved in with the Tuohy family in 2004 in his senior year of high school. His journey from high school to college at Ole Miss was chronicled in Michael Lewis’ 2006 book The Blind Side.
  • Lewis spoke out after Oher leveled his accusations. He claimed the only people who profited from The Blind Side were Hollywood studios. “Everybody should be mad at the Hollywood studio system,” Lewis told the Washington Post. “Michael Oher should join the writers strike. It’s outrageous how Hollywood accounting works, but the money is not in the Tuohys’ pockets.”
  • The film adaptation earned more than $300 million at the box office. Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy.
  • Quinton Aaron, the actor who portrayed Oher, spoke out after several social media users called for Bullock to lose her Oscar over the controversy. “To make a statement like that doesn’t make any sense,” Aaron told TMZ. “Sandra Bullock didn’t have anything to do with the real story that we’re reading as of right now.”


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times interviewed Lewis, who shed light on what money he, the Tuohys, and Oher earned from the movie. “The film rights sold for $250,000, of which Lewis said he kept $70,000 and gave $70,000 to the Tuohys, who split it five ways between the family members, including Oher. Over the next 15 years, Lewis said he and the family received additional payments, mostly from net profits, that added up to some $280,000 for Lewis and $280,000 for the Tuohys.” The Times noted Oher earned nearly $35 million playing in the NFL.
  • New York Magazine’s Will Leitch argued the Michael Oher story has always been more complicated than the movie portrayed. Leitch wrote, “The film’s depiction of Oher and the Tuohys was a particularly grotesque white-savior story, in which Oher is portrayed as so helpless and clueless about the world… that it’s implied he’d have long perished if he hadn’t had these kind, rich white people to save him.” Leitch noted Oher has embraced the book but has long been “less enthusiastic” about the movie.
  • “Oher’s petition raises important questions about the protections — or lack thereof — for young people who are making legal agreements, without much in the way of guidance, that they may not fully understand,” wrote Jill Filipovic for CNN. “According to Oher’s petition, the conservatorship papers were filed by a lawyer with close personal ties to the Tuohy family. In another contract, the petition alleges, he signed away his name, likeness and voice to the studio that made ‘The Blind Side’ ‘without any payment whatsoever’… One does wonder why a conservatorship for a physically and mentally healthy adult was necessary in the first place — and why a court wouldn’t ask more questions, especially when the power imbalance was so clear.”



  • The Daily Mail reported Sandra Bullock is “heartbroken” over the controversy. A source close to Bullock told the Daily Mail that “She hates that such a wonderful story, a spectacular movie, and a spectacular time in her life now has been tainted.” The news comes at a particularly hard time for Bullock after the recent death of her longtime partner, Bryan Randall, from ALS.
  • Tuohy family attorney Martin Singer said the Tuohys are worth hundreds of millions and the notion that they would steal “a few thousand dollars” from Oher “defies belief,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Singer said the Tuohys had been honest about the conservatorship, did not earn money from it and used it to help Oher with college admissions.
  • The New York Post interviewed Quinton Aaron, who defended his co-star from nasty attacks from online vultures. “Having met Michael and the Tuohys, I feel like this is a sad, unfortunate turn of events,” Aaron said. “Sandra did nothing wrong. That’s my girl and she is going through a really tough time right now. I really feel like they should leave her alone and stop trying to come at her,” Aaron told the Post. “Stop trying to come for Sandra because you’re going to make me mad and they are going to have to come through me!”


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© Dominic Moore, 2023