Loyola's SJ Tuohy enjoying life after 'The Blind Side'

Redshirt freshman guard copes with unusual popularity because of book, film depicting his life with Michael Oher

December 28, 2013|By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

Here's a greatly abridged list of facts that set Sean Tuohy Jr. apart from your average reserve on a mid-major college basketball team:

Start with the Loyola guard's 23,379 Twitter followers. For a little perspective, the team's star, Dylon Cormier, has 643.

Then there are the road crowds, which alternate between calling for Tuohy's entry to the game and booing him like he's J.J. Redick. All of this for a redshirt freshman who's played six minutes in his college career.

Oh and three years ago, Tuohy watched Sandra Bullock — he calls her Sandy — win an Academy Award for portraying his mother, Leigh Anne.

"People tell me none of this would have happened without the movie," he says. "And I'm like yeah, you're probably right. But here I am."

Tuohy, who goes by SJ, is the adoptive little brother of Ravens tackle Michael Oher and was a key character in the best-selling book "The Blind Side" and its $309-million-grossing movie adaptation.

He doesn't run from the public profile created by his unusual experiences. He'll tell you he's lucky, in fact, because he can have it both ways with fame.

If he wants to spout an opinion about SEC football or defend his brother against criticism, he has an ample audience lined up to listen. But his name isn't so recognizable that if he's meeting people at a party, he'll suddenly get swarmed like some kind of freak.

He thinks it's funny when teammates urge him to approach a girl and tell her he's the kid from "The Blind Side." Which is not to say he's never done it.

He greets most questions about the movie, even impolite ones, with a shrug or an aw-shucks laugh.

'Three foot and blonde'

Let's hit a few bits about "The Blind Side," just to get them out of the way.

Tuohy might be short and slight for a Division-I basketball player, but standing 6 feet with dark brown hair, he's not the towheaded tyke presented in the film.

Speaking of that, he believes his older sister, Collins, got off easiest onscreen. "She had no bad scenes," he says with mock indignity. "She was played by this really pretty girl. There was nothing in the movie … it was like gee Collins, I wish they had known this about you."

As for his mother, he says she's every bit the steel magnolia depicted by Bullock. "It's not an exaggeration at all," Tuohy says, grinning. "Actually, she's way, way worse."

Oher, meanwhile, is the family member who seems least comfortable talking about the book or movie. He recently ended an interview abruptly when asked how SJ had coped with the craziness of public exposure.

"I just think it's a nuisance for the kids," says their father, Sean Tuohy Sr. "With Michael, what 27-year-old would want to spend a bunch of time talking about stuff that happened when he was 16?"

But SJ says his brother seems at peace with the experience. "I think if you give Mike a 'Call of Duty' game and three hours of free time, he'll be at peace with wherever he is," he says. "I think there are certain parts of the movie he didn't like. Mike will say, 'Well, they made me look stupid.' And I'll say, 'They made me three foot and blond, what do you want?'

"It gives him a great platform the rest of his life to spread a message, as he did in his book. I was like, 'Mike, most offensive linemen in the NFL don't get to write books.' So I think he's at the point where he understands that it did serve a greater purpose."

Whatever his feelings about the movie, Oher says he's cherished having SJ around for the last year.

"He's a grown man," Oher says when asked how their relationship has evolved. "He's a mature grown man. It's like as brothers get older, they become more friends. It's not like he's 10 years old anymore."

'A very easy transition'

Before Oher ever entered his life, Tuohy was destined to deal with some degree of public scrutiny, at least around Memphis. That comes with the territory when your father is the Southeastern Conference's all-time assist leader, a prominent businessman and a television analyst for the NBA's Grizzlies.

I was so young I probably didn't realize what was going on as far as people knowing my dad," he says. "So I kind of just grew up accustomed, not to being in the spotlight necessarily but to having the public eye on you a little bit."

Despite his terrific career at Ole Miss and inner fire for the game, Sean Sr. played a hands-off role in his son's basketball development. SJ remembers watching tapes of his dad playing against Charles Barkley or getting punched in the mouth by Kentucky's Dirk Minniefield. But if anything, he wanted to hear more expert criticism of his own developing game. Usually, all he got was a clap on the back and a "You played great."

SJ was often the only white kid on his rec-league teams, so he says he thought little of it when Oher, a massive black teenager who attended Briarcrest Christian School with Collins, moved into the Tuohy home.

They shared a bathroom and became fierce rivals on the family's pop-a-shot basketball hoop.

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