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In addition to studying the life of Michael Oher and the recent history of football strategy, The Blind Side paints a picture of the football industry and football culture in the early 2000s. In Memphis, Tennessee—and, we’re led to believe, throughout the country—football is more than just a sport: it’s a billion-dollar industry and a huge part of millions of people’s lives, with its own unique culture and values. In particular, the book studies the lengths to which coaches and managers will go to recruit top football players for their programs, and the consequences that all this flattery often has on the players themselves.
Why, The Blind Side implicitly asks, is football such an important part of so many people’s lives? From the perspective of fans, football is important because it showcases the best a community has to offer. Football is entertaining to watch, but it also represents a chance for a community to compete against other communities. In this sense, football strengthens the bond between people who live in the same place: by cheering for their team, they’re also celebrating the town, city, or state where they live. From the perspective of coaches, managers, and businessmen, however, football is also important in the sense that it’s a massive, lucrative industry. NFL teams generate tens of millions of dollars in income every year, and pay their players accordingly well. Even at the college level, where players are forbidden from accepting a salary, a good football team can be an enormous asset to a school, since it generates interest, boosts donations, and brings glory. The Blind Side doesn’t suggest that football insiders are motivated purely by economics, but the book does draw attention to high financial stakes of signing or trading a player, an aspect of the game that many fans aren’t fully aware of.
Because of the huge cultural and financial importance of football, coaches will go to absurd lengths to recruit talented players: they recognize that, by signing the right talent, they could generate enormous sums of money for their programs. Toward the end of Michael Oher’s high school career, when it’s clear that he’s going to be a talented NFL player, football coaches from Division I colleges try to convince him to attend their schools. The book emphasizes the amount of money that the colleges lavish on recruiting Michael: coaches wear expensive suits, spend hours researching how to flatter Michael and his family, and travel across the country, all in the hopes of wooing Michael. Expensive as the wooing process is, it’s nothing compared to the money that Michael could generate for a Division I college by playing football there. Later in the book, the NCAA begins investigating the Tuohy family for manipulating Michael into attending the University of Mississippi. The idea that the Tuohys would go to such lengths just to get someone to go to a college seems laughable; however, football is such a huge part of American culture, and such a big moneymaker for teams, that the idea isn’t quite as silly as it appears.
For the most part, The Blind Side refrains from passing judgment on the Division I recruiting process, or the centrality of football in general. However, whether intentionally or not, the book depicts a disturbing level of entitlement that football stars enjoy because of their talent. At the University of Mississippi, Michael Oher and his teammates are encouraged to take only the easiest classes: they’re in college to play football, not to learn. After The Blind Side was published, the University of Mississippi, along with other Division I schools, came under investigation for giving out too many easy A’s to its athletes. Similarly, football players aren’t always appropriately punished for their actions. Toward the end of the book, Michael Oher gets in a violent fight with a teammate, Antonio Turner, who insults Leigh Anne Tuohy, his guardian. During the fight, Michael injures a three-year-old child, and later flees the scene. Michael is never tried for beating up his teammate or for accidentally hurting a child. His coach, Ed Orgeron, doesn’t even tell him anything about controlling his emotions or being careful not to hurt innocent people—instead, he just says, “It’s lonely at the top.” Whatever one thinks of Michael’s decision to defend his adopted mother’s honor, the incident leaves one with the distinct impression that Michael and his teammates are never really held accountable for anything they do wrong. In some ways, Michael Oher seems more emotionally stable and less entitled than his teammates, due to his strong family support. Nevertheless, the football industry seems to create a group of elite athletes who, in the short term, are treated like princes, but who, in the long run, end up uneducated and unequipped to deal with adult responsibilities.