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"Blind Side" family accuses Michael Oher of "shakedown" try

"Blind Side” family says Oher's claims are false
Family depicted in “The Blind Side” accuses Michael Oher of “shakedown” 01:29

Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy are calling Michael Oher's claims that they enriched themselves at his expense "outlandish," "hurtful and absurd" and part of a "shakedown" by the former NFL offensive tackle, whose relationship with the family was the inspiration for the movie "The Blind Side."

At a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, attorneys for the Tuohy family said Oher's claims that he signed away his rights to "The Blind Side" are false. Each member of the Tuohy family — including Oher — received about $100,000 in profits from the movie, the attorneys said. 

That amount is different from what other family members have claimed. On Monday, Sean Tuohy told the Daily Memphian, "We didn't make any money off the movie."

"Well, Michael Lewis [the author of the book that inspired the movie] gave us half of his share,"
 he said. "Everybody in the family got an equal share, including Michael [Oher]. It was about $14,000, each." 

In a statement first issued Tuesday by attorney Martin Singer to and later obtained by The Associated Press, Singer said the Tuohys are heartbroken and accused Oher of threatening to plant a negative story about them unless they paid him $15 million.

The statement says agents negotiated a small advance from the production company for the Oscar-nominated movie "The Blind Side," which was based on the book written by Sean Tuohy's friend Michael Lewis. That included "a tiny percentage of net profits" divided equally with the Tuohys making "good on that pledge."

Singer said the Tuohys hope Oher regrets his recent decisions and that they can reconcile.

Mississippi State v Mississippi
Michael Oher, of the Ole Miss Rebels, with his family during senior ceremonies prior to a game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 28, 2008 in Oxford, Mississippi. Getty Images

"In the meantime, however, they will not hesitate to defend their good names, stand up to this shakedown and defeat this offensive lawsuit," the statement says.

Oher filed a petition Monday in Shelby County Probate Court asking a judge to terminate a conservatorship initiated by the Tuohys in August 2004 — months after he turned 18. The family's attorneys said Wednesday that the Tuohys intend to end the conservatorship.

"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," according to his petition.

In a conservatorship, the conservator is legally allowed to make decisions on another person's behalf without technically making them a family member. The person with a disability or other challenge only needs to sign the proper legal documents to grant the conservatorship, as Oher did. 

Under adoption laws, an adoptee legally becomes a permanent member of the applicant's family. 

Adoption laws vary by state, with a few states placing age limits on adoption. Tennessee, the home state of Oher and the Tuohys, is among the states that allow adults to adopt someone who is over 18, according to law firm Anderson Hunter.

Having a conservatorship also plays a role in the person's finances. A conservator or co-conservators typically have authority over the finances and personal affairs of the person they're overseeing. 

Oher moved in with the Tuohys just before his senior year of high school and later attended Sean Tuohy's alma mater, Mississippi. Oher asks for a full accounting of his assets — considering his life story produced millions of dollars and he says he received nothing.

Oher, who has never been a fan of the movie about his life, also asks in the petition that the Tuohys be sanctioned and required to pay both compensatory and punitive damages determined by the court.

The Tuohy family statement says the idea that they sought to profit off Oher is "not only offensive, it is transparently ridiculous." The statement notes the Tuohys are worth "hundreds of millions of dollars" and the notion they would "connive to withhold a few thousand dollars" defies belief.

"They have consistently treated him like a son and one of their three children," Singer said in the statement. "His response was to threaten them, including saying that he would plant a negative story about them in the press unless they paid him $15 million."

Singer notes evidence exists in profit participation checks and studio accounting statements for the movie that won Sandra Bullock an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy.

When Oher refused to cash what the statement calls "small profit checks" as part of his "shakedown effort," the statement says the Tuohys deposited Oher's share into a trust account set up for his son.

The Tuohys insist they received "not one penny" as Oher's conservators and set it up only to help him with health insurance, a driver's license and being admitted to college. The statement says the Tuohys will not oppose Oher's wish to end their conservatorship.

Sean Tuohy said the conservatorship in question had nothing to do with the movie but was meant to help Oher as he got recruited to play at Ole Miss, where Sean Tuohy had played football as well and was an active booster. 

"They said the only way Michael could go to Ole Miss was if he was actually part of the family," Tuohy said, adding that because Oher was 18 at the time, the conservatorship was a way to make that happen legally since he was too old to be legally adopted. "... We contacted lawyers who had told us that we couldn't adopt over the age of 18; the only thing we could do was to have a conservatorship. We were so concerned it was on the up-and-up that we made sure the biological mother came to court." 

Singer said in the statement that Oher has tried this "several times before" only to have attorneys stop representing him once they learned the truth. The statement called this a "cynical attempt" as part of Oher's latest book tour.

Oher was the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Mississippi, and he spent his first five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, with whom he won a Super Bowl. He played 110 games over eight NFL seasons, including 2014 when he started 11 games for the Tennessee Titans. Oher finished his career with two years in Carolina.

He last played in 2016 and was released in 2017 by Carolina. 

Li Cohen contributed reporting

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