Coming Attraction Not A Distraction

A Film About His Life Opens Locally Friday, But Ravens' Michael Oher Is Taking It All In Stride

November 16, 2009|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Dan.connolly@baltsun.com

Ravens offensive lineman Michael Oher shrugs his massive shoulders when asked about his life story - one considered so compelling it's the subject of the movie "The Blind Side" scheduled to open nationwide this week.

It's a Hollywood version of Oher's incredible journey from destitute, uneducated Memphis teen to college graduate and millionaire starting right tackle for the Ravens. Based on Michael Lewis' best-selling book of the same name, the Warner Bros. movie highlights Oher's close relationship with the rich white family that helped change his life.

But Oher, 23, hasn't yet made plans to see the premiere Tuesday in New York - the day after the Ravens play at the Cleveland Browns on "Monday Night Football." Nor has he set a date to catch it at a local theater when it opens here Friday.

"I am not curious. I am not in a hurry to see it," said the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Oher, who was selected by the Ravens with the 23rd overall pick in April's draft. "But I will watch it eventually."

It's not that he's opposed to the movie or embarrassed by its premise.

"I am never ashamed of where I came from," Oher said. "Where I came from, a lot of people don't make it out. I think it has made me a tougher person, a better player."

Those close to him, however, are plenty interested in this film.

His Memphis family is promoting the movie along with the filmmakers and the studio. Some of Oher's teammates have teased him about the film, which stars Sandra Bullock as his adoptive mother.

They're all doing their best to leave Oher out of the hoopla - if that's what he wants. Because while he is believed to be the first rookie in North American professional sports to go through a season while having his life immortalized in a major motion picture, Oher still has a job to do in the NFL.

That's his singular focus. Not this new movie.

"It's not going to be a distraction, because it is not a bad thing," Ravens veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said when asked if the film could put pressure on his rookie teammate. "He lived the life, so he is concentrating on playing football."

Oher's reaction to all this interest in his life was much the same when Lewis' book came out in 2006. It took several years before Oher decided to read the book, according to Sean Tuohy, his adoptive father. And his review was lukewarm.

"Some things [are] in it that are the truth, some things are not," Oher said. "People have got to do things to sell it. But everything is good, though."

He does have a passion for movies - Oher likes most genres and considers the original "Godfather" his all-time favorite.

As for "The Blind Side," Oher has had seven years to get beyond that stone-silent, confused 16-year-old portrayed in the movie, Tuohy said. That kid has moved on now, Tuohy said, so if Oher misses the premiere, it's not a big deal.

"If he doesn't go, it's not like this major decision on his part, that's just the way it worked out," Tuohy said. "Whether he is going to eat a sandwich or a piece of chicken probably has just as much importance."

It's just another example of the single-mindedness that allowed Oher to succeed against incalculable odds, Tuohy said.

"Michael was blessed with the unbelievable ability to just not worry about what happened yesterday," Tuohy said. "His mind is always on the next issue and you've got to believe that's how he made it through adversity, because if he is out there worrying about the past, he would have never gotten up the next day."

Oher was one of 13 children born to a mother addicted to crack cocaine. His biological father was never part of his life and eventually was found murdered, thrown off an overpass in West Memphis.

In Oher's first nine years of schooling, he attended at least 11 different institutions. He repeated first and second grades. He was in and out of foster homes, often fleeing and returning to his mother.

His life changed at 16 when he accompanied a friend and his friend's father on a drive to Briarcrest Christian School, an expensive Evangelical institution in East Memphis. The friend's father wanted to take his son out of the public school system, and decided to also take Oher, who had been sleeping on the family's floor for weeks.One look at the massive Oher intrigued the Briarcrest football coach, who lobbied for the boy's admission based on the school's Christian mission. Oher entered Briarcrest with a 0.6 grade point average, but with tutoring and special assistance, he lifted his grades high enough to participate in athletics.

While at Briarcrest, Oher met Tuohy, a former standout point guard at the University of Mississippi and now a fast-food magnate, and his family. Tuohy's wife, Leigh Anne, took a personal interest in Oher's struggles, inviting him to live with the family, buying him clothes and ultimately becoming the mother - kind, authoritative, unrelenting - who Oher craved.

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