The Blind Side tells the uplifting story of NFL veteran Michael Oher’s journey from childhood poverty to football stardom. But how does the real Michael view the film?

Starring Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy and Quinton Aaron as Michael Oher, the Oscar-nominated 2009 film The Blind Side was a box-office success, earning more than $300 million worldwide. To this day, it ranks among the most beloved sports dramas. But did you know it’s based on real people?

The film is based Michael Lewis’ 2006 book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which recounted the life of NFL player Michael Oher, from impoverished childhood to his adoption by the Tuohy family to his first year of college football. As with most any adaptation, there were some discrepancies between director John Lee Hancock’s film and Oher’s actual experiences.

So, what’s the real story of The Blind Side, and how accurate was the film in translating Oher’s triumphs and hardships?

Real Life Vs. Film: How Accurate Is The Blind Side?

Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron in The Blind Side

Oher played in the NFL for eight seasons, before retiring in 2017. In that time, he won a Super Bowl championship with the Baltimore Ravens, and came in second in voting for The Associated Press’ Offense Rookie of the Year. When reflecting on Oher’s achievements, it’s impossible not to look to the events in The Blind Side.

Oher’s tragic early life was, unfortunately, true. His birth mother struggled with cocaine addiction, and father wasn’t present in his life. “When my mother was off drugs and working, she would remember to buy groceries,” recalled Oher, one of 12 children, “and there would be a mad scramble to grab whatever you could before anyone else got to it.”

The film portrayed Oher as nearly homeless when the Tuohys met him. In reality, Oher was couch-surfing, staying with classmates and foster families. And while he had his share of academic problems, The Blind Side wasn’t entirely factual in its depiction of his high school life. In the film, Oher didn’t have any particular interests before he met the Tuohys; he’s characterized as a lonely student who wasn’t involved in athletics. However, the truth is, Oher played three sports: basketball, track and field, and football.

A local athletic program director, Tony Henderson, was among those who took Oher into their homes. “He wasn’t no trouble kid, nothing like that, you know?” Henderson told ABC News. “He was real quiet, you know, and just stayed to himself.” That description of the real Oher is what we saw onscreen, which is one element Hancock was sure to get right.

Meanwhile, S.J. Tuohy (played by Jae Head) wasn’t the one who struck up a friendship with Oher, as the film suggests. It was actually father Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw) who noticed him from the sidelines of the gym. That may seem like an insignificant detail, but when we’re talking about the pivotal moment in which the Tuohys intervened in Oher’s life, getting it right feels necessary.

What the Real Michael Oher Said About The Blind Side

The real Michael Oher, with the Tuohy family, in 2016
The real Michael Oher, with the Tuohy family, in 2016

Oher’s 2014 memoir, I Beat the Odds, further addresses his views on The Blind Side.

“I felt like it portrayed me as dumb,” Oher wrote, “instead of as a kid who had never had consistent academic instruction and ended up thriving once he got it.” Oher was frustrated by that, and felt the film didn’t do him justice.

The issue wasn’t only about his intelligence, but also his athletic abilities. As previously noted, Oher had been playing three sports at the time the Tuohys took him in, something omitted by the film. His supposed lack of athletic knowledge became a focal point of The Blind Side, as S.J. and Leigh Anne tried to teach him football. That was something the real Oher couldn’t get past.

“Quinton Aaron did a great job acting the part,” Oher wrote in I Beat the Odds, “but I could not figure out why the director chose to show me as someone who had to be taught the game of football. Whether it was S.J. moving around ketchup bottles or Leigh Anne explaining to me what blocking is about, I watched those scene thinking, ‘No, that’s not me at all! I’ve been studying – really studying – the game since I was a kid!’ That was my main hang-up with the film.”

The way Hancock trivializes Oher’s character is certainly a questionable choice. Rather than acknowledging what Oher knew, the filmmaker overemphasized his weaknesses. That decision may have been made for the sake of a compelling story, but unlike other movies, The Blind Side is based on someone’s life. It requires an amount of sensitivity that Hancock didn’t seem to possess. The movie fails to represent is Oher’s intelligence, and instead credits his success to the Tuohys. However, Oher simply needed more support than he was getting. The Tuohys didn’t make Oher smarter, but, rather, allowed him to express that intelligence with the help of additional resources.

The Blind Side Shows the True Power of Kindness

Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron in The Blind Side

Above all, The Blind Side shows the power of a good deed. What began as a family taking in a boy who needed a place to stay turned into an addition to the family. If the Tuohys hadn’t come into Oher’s life and given him the love that he lacked, he may not have had the same opportunities. Not because he wasn’t capable, but because there’s a power and comfort in being loved and supported.

One good deed can change the course of someone’s life. The way that Oher and the Tuohys’ lives merged fulfilled them both. “When I moved in with Leigh Anne and Sean, I felt loved, like part of a family,” wrote Oher, who went on to found the Oher Foundation, dedicated to providing underprivileged children with a pathway to success. “In the other houses, I didn’t feel like part of the family. I didn’t feel like they wanted me there.”

A single act of kindness can create a domino effect. It can influence others to do the same, and inspire hope. The Blind Side isn’t merely a sports drama, or a story about a rich family giving a poor boy a chance at life. It’s about children needing love, family, and support to grow into themselves and thrive. The movie may have gotten some things wrong, but the ultimate message is just as powerful.  

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