Former Mississippi tackle, NFL player known for ‘The Blind Side,’ sues couple to end conservatorship

Published 4:47 am Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Michael Oher, the former NFL tackle known for being the inspiration for the movie “The Blind Side,” filed a petition Monday in a Tennessee probate court accusing Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy of lying to him by having him sign papers making them his conservators rather than his adoptive parents nearly two decades ago.

In the petition filed Monday in Shelby County Probate Court, Oher asks for the conservatorship to be terminated along with asking for a full accounting of the money earned off the use of his name and story. He also asks to be paid what he is due along with interest.

He accuses the Tuohys of enriching themselves at his expense by continuing to “falsely and publicly” represent themselves as his adoptive parents “to the date of the filing of this petition.”

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“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 the petition.

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.

Steve Farese, a lawyer for the Tuohys, told The Associated Press they will file an answer to the allegations in court but declined to comment further. He was among three attorneys served on behalf of the Tuohys on Monday.

Leigh Anne Tuohy did not immediately respond to an email sent via her personal website.Her husband told The Daily Memphian the conservatorship was done to satisfy the NCAA as Oher considered Tuohy’s alma mater Mississippi for college.

Sean Tuohy said he and his wife would end the conservatorship if that’s what Oher wants.

“We’re devastated,” Tuohy said. “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.”

The movie was nominated for an Oscar, and Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy.

Oher accuses the Tuohys of never taking legal action to assume custody from the Tennessee Department of Human Services before he turned 18. The conservatorship paperwork was filed months after Oher turned 18 in May 2004.

He moved in with the Tuohys just before his senior year of high school and says he was told to call them “Mom” and “Dad.” Oher says in the petition he was encouraged to call the attorney who filed the conservatorship paperwork “Aunt Debbie” Branan.

Oher also alleges the Tuohys had him sign paperwork almost immediately after he moved in as part of the adoption process. Oher says he was “falsely advised” that it would be called a conservatorship because he was already 18 but the intent was adoption.

“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,” according to the petition.

A book based on Oher’s life was released in September 2006. The author, Michael Lewis, was described in the petition as a childhood friend of Sean Tuohy’s. The petition alleges Oher’s conservators began contract negotiations for movie rights.

The petition alleges a deal was reached to pay the Tuohys, plus children Sean Jr. and Collins, $225,000 plus 2.5% of future defined net proceeds hinging on Oher’s signature. A contract titled “Life Story Rights Agreement” was “purportedly signed by Michael Oher” and dated April 20, 2007, according to the petition.

The petition says Oher believes the signature is similar to his own but that he “at no time ever willingly or knowingly signed this document and that nobody ever presented this contract to him with any explanation that he was signing such a document.”

In the petition, Oher asks for a full accounting of his assets and how they were used considering his life story produced millions of dollars and he received nothing for the rights to something that would not have existed without him.

Oher was the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Mississippi, and he spent his first five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. He wound up playing eight NFL seasons, including 2014 when he started 11 games for the Tennessee Titans. Oher finished his career with two years in Carolina.

He started 110 games and won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. He also finished second in the voting to Percy Harvin of Minnesota for The Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year after starting all 16 games his first season at right tackle.

Oher, who turned 37 in May, last played in 2016. He was released in 2017 by Carolina.

Nearly two years ago, supporters cheered when Britney Spears was freed from her conservatorship. The ruling came after Spears publicly demanded the end of the arrangement, which had prevented her from making her own medical, financial and personal decisions since 2008.

Spears’ high-profile battle put a spotlight on efforts that advocates across the United States have launched raising questions that such strict controls result in more harm than protection.