Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, the Tennessee couple who took in a young Michael Oher before he became an NFL tackle, said they “never intended” to adopt him and have only referred to him as their son in the “colloquial sense.”
The Tuohys, whose story was told in a book and an award-winning film both called “The Blind Side,” on Thursday denied many of the bombshell allegations made by Oher last month, when he requested to end a conservatorship that has given the couple power of attorney over him and control of his finances.
Oher claimed in his petition that the couple had lied about adopting him into their family and tricked him into the conservatorship, a legal arrangement designed for people who are incapacitated by mental or physical disability.
“Michael 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,” his petition said.
In a response filed Thursday, the couple said that they never told Oher they intended to legally adopt him, but they considered him part of the family.
“Clearly, the [Tuohys] loved [Oher] and as a result provided him with shelter, food, and clothing and in fact bought him more than one vehicle for his personal use,” their response said.
Oher, who is now 37, had been taken in by the Tuohy family at age 18 after spending years in the foster care system. He received various scholarship offers to play college football and ultimately chose the University of Mississippi, the Tuohys’ alma mater. He went on to play for multiple NFL teams.
In 2009, the film “The Blind Side” presented his life as the heartwarming story of a Black teen reaching his potential with the help of a wealthy white family. It earned Sandra Bullock an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy.
But the August petition from Oher, who retired from professional football in 2017, pushed back against the movie’s cheery narrative. He said that after moving into the Tuohys’ home in 2004, the couple said they intended to adopt him and presented him what with what he thought were adoption papers to sign. But the documents were actually for the appointment of conservators, Oher said.
“Michael was falsely advised by the Tuohys that because he was over the age of eighteen, that the legal action to adopt Michael would have to be called a ‘conservatorship’ but it was, for all intents and purposes, an adoption,” his petition read.
In their response, the Tuohys said the conservatorship, which made them Oher’s legal guardians, was intended to allow him to play college football at Ole Miss without breaking NCAA rules that prevent school donors from influencing prospective players.
“When it became clear that [Oher] could not consider going to the University of Mississippi (‘Ole Miss’) as a result of living with the [Tuohys], the NCAA made it clear that the only way he could attend Ole Miss was if he was part of the Tuohy family in some fashion,” the Tuohys’ response said. “Conservatorship was the tool chosen to accomplish this goal.”
Oher said he was unaware that the conservatorship gave the couple “total control” over his ability to enter contracts even though he was over the age of 18. He added that over the years, the couple falsely presented themselves as his adopted parents and “enriched themselves” at his expense to the tune of millions of dollars.
While the couple conceded that they have colloquially referred to Oher as their son in public, they denied ever calling him such in a legal sense or profiting off him.
During Oher’s conservatorship, the couple allegedly negotiated contracts with Twentieth Century Fox on his behalf to use his likeness for “The Blind Side,” Oher’s petition said. Neither the Tuohys nor the film’s producers informed him of the agreement or ensured that he would benefit from the film’s success, according to the petition, and his name and likeness rights were allegedly signed over to Fox for nothing.
The couple said they have never signed a contract on Oher’s behalf. They also denied negotiating with producers of “The Blind Side” and said this process was handled by author Michael Lewis, who wrote the book the film was based on. The Tuohys said all proceeds they received from the film have been split evenly between them, their two biological children, and Oher.
After the film performed well, Alcon Entertainment LLC, which acquired the movie from Fox, made a $200,000 donation to Leigh Anne Tuohy’s foundation. The Tuohys said Oher had the same opportunity to receive $200,000 and give it to a charity of his choice.
In terms of the conservatorship, the couple said they are “ready, willing, and able” to terminate it but asked the court to deny Oher’s request for financial damages.
Attorneys representing Oher and the Tuohys did not respond to GME’s requests for a comment.
Don Barrett, an attorney for Oher, told NBC News on Thursday that “We look forward to Mike finally getting his day in court, where we are confident that the truth will prevail.”