Yes, 'The Blind Side' was Always that Bad | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

Yes, ‘The Blind Side’ was Always that Bad

Our first mistake, I think, was believing that a family of Southeastern Conference football boosters were honorable and trustworthy people. 

Ever since I read Michael Lewis’ The Blind Side book in 2006, and saw the movie in 2009, there’s something about it that always rubbed me the wrong way, even beyond all of the standard critiques that emerged, both right away and for years afterward. 

In the book and film, Michael Oher, an impoverished 17-year-old from Memphis who happens to be 6’4″ and over 300 pounds, is taken in by a wealthy, white Christian family led by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy. They come from as different backgrounds as possible, but they go on to form something resembling a family. 

It also so happens that Oher is a top offensive line prospect and that the Tuohys were boosters for the football program at their alma mater, the University of Mississippi. 

Something Smelled Fishy

In both the book and movie, there’s an NCAA investigation into whether Oher was somehow improperly steered by the Tuohys to their alma mater. But they concluded that they did not – and in the movie, Oher says something like “It’s where my family goes to school.” 

But isn’t it obvious that… they did steer him to Ole Miss, and their initial relationship had something to do with Oher being a massive football player who just might be able to help out at a crucial position, for a football program that they’ve dedicated their lives to helping? I always thought that never even passed the smell test, either in the book or the movie. 

The Blind Side is in the news this week, after Michael Oher came forward with a court petition, claiming that he was exploited by the Tuohys, that he was placed in a conservatorship, and that he got “absolutely nothing” from the movie, which was a box office phenomenon and won Sandra Bullock an Oscar. Oher also says that, despite heavy implications across various media, he was never actually adopted by the family. 

The Tuohys have pushed back against the claims, with all of the most loathsome and racist social media users eager to denounce him as “ungrateful” (I don’t even have to tell you which side Jason Whitlock is on). The claims will likely be adjudicated at some point. 

Michael Lewis’s book, which he wrote a couple of years after Moneyball — though the Moneyball movie wasn’t until 2011 —  is a bit more defensible. About half of it is about the evolution of the left tackle position in football, with the other half telling Oher’s story. (Lewis, who has caught a lot of flak since the Oher complaint, is an old friend of Sean Tuohy.) 

But the movie? The movie is unspeakably atrocious. 

A Bad Movie

First of all, to tell the story of how important the left tackle position has become, the film shows us, in the first two minutes, Joe Theissman’s leg getting broken by Lawrence Taylor in 1985, one of the most gruesome injuries in the history of professional sports. At the time, I imagined Theissman going to see the movie with his wife, sitting down to watch it, and without warning reliving the most traumatic experience of his life. 

The Blind Side, as told in the movie, is not only what today would be described as a “white savior” narrative, but practically the textbook one. It appears to take the position that the solution to urban Black poverty is for the kids to be adopted by wealthy white Christian families. (Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, released the same month but since largely forgotten, posited that the solution to that same problem was lots and lots of government programs.) 

There’s one famous scene where Bullock’s Leigh Anne, after implying that her deceased dad wouldn’t have approved of a Black kid being part of a family, is told by a friend “honey, you’re changing that boy’s life,” and she replies, “no, he’s changing mine,” which is normally the way wealthy white women talk about their rescue dogs:

The film portrays Oher as much more of a simpleton than the book did, and Oher, who went on to play eight years in the NFL, was often critical of the movie even before this month; never did he not, in reality, ever have his own bed, and had been an accomplished football player well before he met the Tuohys.

The Blind Side, which is the highest-grossing football movie in history, was nominated for Best Picture and won Bullock her first Oscar. Among other things, it set studio sports movies on the path of being more about inspirational pap than anything else. 

But as we learned this week from its subject, that’s not the worst thing that terrible movie did. 

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