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Michael Oher.
Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

  • Michael Oher filed new court documents on Monday claiming the Tuohy family never adopted him. 
  • Per court documents viewed by Insider, he said they instead put him under a conservatorship that “exploited” him. 
  • Sean Tuohy told The Daily Memphian that the conservatorship was so Oher could play for the University of Mississippi.

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Michael Oher, the ex-NFL star and the inspiration behind the Sandra Bullock hit “The Blind Side,” alleges in new court documents obtained by Insider that the Tuohy family never actually adopted him — instead using him as a “gullible” young man who could be “exploited for their own benefit.” 

The document was filed in probate court in Shelby County, Tennessee, on Monday and claims that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy — who took Oher into their home when he was in high school — tricked Oher into signing documents that entered him into a conservatorship three months after his 18th birthday in 2004. Before he turned 18, Oher was a ward of the foster care system in Tennessee.

The filing states that he signed conservatorship papers, which he thought were adoption papers. He wouldn’t know the truth until February of this year, the documents state.

Michael Oher.
Harry How/Getty Images

The conservatorship, the documents said, allowed the Tuohys to have “total control” over Oher’s ability to “negotiate for or enter any contract,” including the deal that paid them and their children millions of dollars in royalties from “The Blind Side.”

Meanwhile, Oher got nothing for a story “that would not have existed without him,” the court documents say. 

The arrangement also gave the Tuohys legal control over Oher’s education and medical decisions, the documents say. He had no known physical, mental, or emotional disabilities that would necessitate this legal arrangement, Monday’s filing says.

In an interview with The Daily Memphian on Monday, Sean Tuohy said:

“We didn’t make any money off the movie. Well, Michael Lewis (the author of the book ‘The Blind Side’) gave us half of his share. Everybody in the family got an equal share, including Michael. It was about $14,000, each.

“We were never offered money; we never asked for money. My money is well-documented; you can look up how much I sold my company for.”

Sean Tuohy also claimed to The Daily Memphian that the conservatorship was put in place to satisfy the NCAA so that Oher could go to the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). He told the newspaper that the attorneys said that the family could not adopt because Michael was over 18 and said they could only do a conservatorship.

He said he would be open to the conservatorship ending, saying, “I want whatever Michael wants.”

In their 2010 book, “In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving,” the Tuohys wrote they split the proceeds from “The Blind Side” evenly between their family and Oher.

The book detailed that “contrary to popular belief, the movie did not wildly enrich us.” The Tuohys added in their book that they had “no participation in the profits” and “only received a fee for selling our name” to Alcon Entertainment, the company that produced the film. That fee, they wrote, “all in all was not a large amount,” the couple wrote. “We divided it five ways.”

Oher recently retired from the NFL.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

But according to the court documents, the Tuohys actually negotiated $225,000 in addition to 2.5% of all future “defined net proceeds” for themselves and their two biological children, Collins Tuohy and Sean “SJ” Tuohy Jr.

Per the filing, Oher didn’t have a representative to negotiate for him in the matter, and his contract and payment were sent to Debbie Branan, a lawyer and close friend of the Tuohy family who also drew up the conservatorship for them.

The court documents also allege that Oher unknowingly signed away his life rights to 20th Century Fox without receiving payment.

Oher, now 37, is seeking an official legal end to the conservatorship, which was meant to have ended when he was 25 years old. He’s also seeking compensation plus interest based on the money the Tuohys received due to the success of “The Blind Side” and the sale of his life rights.

Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side.”
Warner Bros.

Additionally, Oher is seeking “compensatory and punitive damages” from the Tuohys, payment for his legal fees, and an injunction preventing them from using his name, story, or likeness in the future. 

Representatives for Oher and the Tuohys didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Oher had a successful NFL career and went on to retire

Oher, who is now retired, went on to have a successful career in the NFL. In 2009, he was a first-round pick for the Baltimore Ravens. He later played for the Tennessee Titans and the Carolina Panthers, retiring in 2017.

The movie adaption of Oher’s life story, “The Blind Side,” written and directed by John Lee Hancock, was released in 2009. The film was based on a 2006 book by Michael Lewis detailing Oher’s story, from growing up as one of 12 children to a mother who had addiction issues to his enrollment in a local private school Briarcrest Christian School, due to his excellent athletic ability, where he met Tuohys’ son, Sean Jr.

“The Blind Side” made over $300 million at the box office and was a critical success, including earning an Oscar for star Sandra Bullock, who portrayed Leigh Anne Tuohy.

Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side.”
Warner Bros.

Representatives for Bullock and Hancock didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on Oher’s new legal claims.

Despite the movie’s commercial and critical success, it’s also been long criticized for painting the Tuohys as “white saviors” of Oher and for portraying him as unintelligent.

“There has been so much created from ‘The Blind Side’ that I am grateful for, which is why you might find it as a shock that the experience surrounding the story has also been a large source of some of my deepest hurt and pain over the past 14 years,” Oher wrote in his book “When Your Back’s Against the Wall,” which was released last week, per ESPN.

August 14, 2023, 4:08 p.m. PT: This story has been updated to include Sean Tuohy’s comments to The Daily Memphian.