Cover Story

Family man

"Family man" Continued...

Issue: "All-American adoption story," Nov. 21, 2009

Reports on Oher off the field are also complimentary. Soft-spoken, kind, and fiercely protective of those he loves, he defies stereotypes about drunken, brawling behemoths. At a recent dinner with other Ravens players, some shot Patron, a luxury brand of tequila, but Oher, concerned that young kids might be watching him, ordered Shirley Temples. "I'm proud he's been Rookie of the Week and all that," says Leigh Anne, "but what I'm really proud of is his character."

Into this perfect storm of publicity comes a new movie, The Blind Side, due in theaters Nov. 20, based on Lewis' book. Starring Tim McGraw as Sean Tuohy, Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, Quinton Aaron as Oher, and Kathy Bates as tutor Miss Sue, the film chronicles Oher's journey from the streets of inner-city Memphis to the NFL-and the difference the love of a family has made along the way (see "The Blinded Side").

Leigh Anne has previewed the film but said she might have to watch it again because the interior designer in her came out during her first viewing. "All I could think about was I would not put that vase on the mantle and I do not like those drapes," she said of seeing "her" home in the film. Nevertheless, she likes the implicit message and asks, "How many Michael Ohers are there out there? There are thousands of kids out there, one who might be the next great open-heart surgeon or the next president, but we've deemed them valueless because they don't have the right kind of shoes or drive a particular car or belong to the right clubs."

Sean Tuohy hopes the film can lead to discussion of how inner-city public schools pass kids through classes and grade levels when they are failing: "Our system is set up to guarantee failure for those kids. I don't know how to solve it." Sure, Michael's size and athleticism make him unusual, but that's the point: "If the most obvious success in the city of Memphis can get passed over, imagine who else is too. What Michael's done for us is that we no longer look at a kid and say, 'That kid doesn't have a chance.' We look at him and say, 'Why isn't that kid succeeding? There's no reason that kid can't succeed.'"

Tuohy points out that many who are athletically gifted cannot qualify to play sports in high school because of poor grades, much less graduate with a required 2.5 G.P.A. Often foster care officials will not sign liability forms for children to participate in after-school sports, depriving them of opportunities to develop and excel athletically, and leaving them with huge blocks of free time in which to get in trouble. Often adoptions take up to four years to complete, even though large numbers of children, especially older ones like Oher, languish in foster care. The Tuohys have started the Memphis-based Michael Oher Foundation with home for just those kinds of kids.

At the end of The Blind Side, Lewis writes that Oher's success story came about by way of a series of "social accidents." The Tuohys disagree. They know it was no accident that Oher was born with the genetic potential to become the perfect left tackle. It wasn't "chance" that led him to the doorstep of a man who had spent his childhood starving in the projects of New Orleans and now has the connections and resources to help a young athlete. Nor is it an accident that in October the Tuohys were given the National Angels in Adoption award by the Congressional Coalition for Adoption and that, after months spent navigating around Oher's Ravens schedule and Sean's Grizzlies schedule, the date set for the opening of the movie, Nov. 20, just happens to be the eve of National Adoption Day.

"People call it a fluke, but this is not by chance," said Leigh Anne. "The Lord takes us down paths in our lives that are often hard to understand and we certainly wish we knew where this was all going but it is clear to me that He has a plan for this movie and it is bigger than we are."

Amy Henry
Amy Henry

Amy is a married mother of six and a WORLD correspondent from Kansas. Follow her other "scribbles" at Whole Mama or by reading her book Story Mama: What Children's Stories Teach Us About Life, Love and Mothering. Follow Amy on Twitter @wholemama.

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