Seah Tuohy, the alleged adoptive father of former NFL player and Blind Side subject Michael Oher, said the family was “devastated” after Oher filed legal documents claiming the Tuohy’s never adopted him and profited wildly from his life and story.
Speaking with the Daily Memphian, Tuohy said, “It’s upsetting to think we would make money off any of our children. But we’re going to love Michael at 37 just like we loved him at 16.” He went on to call the allegations in Oher’s petition “insulting” but said he would still be willing to end the conservatorship: “I want whatever Michael wants.”
On Monday, Aug. 14, Oher filed a petition in Shelby County, Tennessee, that alleged the Tuohys never adopted him and instead placed him in a conservatorship after they became his legal guardians in 2004 (just a few months after he turned 18). The now 37-year-old said he only just learned that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy were not his parents but conservators with legal authority over his business deals.
The petition accused the Tuohys of using the “untruth” of his adoption “to gain financial advantages” for themselves and their foundations. Oher said that included money made off of The Blind Side, the 2009 Oscar-winning sports drama based on Michael Lewis’ 2006 book of the same name. Oher alleged that the Tuohys and their two birth children earned $225,000 each from the deal they signed for the movie rights, plus 2.5 percent of the film’s “defined net proceeds” (the movie grossed over $300 million at the box office). Oher, however, claimed he never received any money from the film.
However, Sean Tuohy denied that claim, saying the family “didn’t make any money off the movie” before acknowledging that Lewis “gave us half of his share.” Tuohy continued: “Everybody in the family got an equal share, including Michael. It was about $14,000 each.”
Tuohy went on to insist that not only was the family “never offered money,” they “never asked for money.” He added, “My money is well-documented; you can look up how much I sold my company for” (Tuohy reportedly sold several fast food franchises for over $200 million in six separate transactions).
“The last thing I needed was 40 grand from a movie,” Tuohy said. “I will say it’s upsetting that people would think I would want to make money off any of my children.”
As for the matter of Oher’s adoption, Tuohy said the family became his conservators because their lawyers told them they couldn’t legally adopt someone over the age of 18. Tennessee law actually does, however, allow for “adult adoption,” but Tuohy insisted his lawyers told him it wasn’t permitted in the state.
Tuohy also offered up some of the reasoning behind the conservatorship, saying it came about as Oher began to consider attending college and playing football at Ole Miss. Tuohy himself had played basketball there and continued to give financial support, making him a “booster.” Tuohy said that, combined with the fact that Oher had been living with the family, made the NCAA skittish.
“They said the only way Michael could go to Ole Miss was if he was actually part of the family,” Tuohy said. “I sat Michael down and told him, ‘If you’re planning to go to Ole Miss — or even considering Ole Miss — we think you have to be part of the family. This would do that, legally.’ We contacted lawyers who had told us that we couldn’t adopt over the age of 18; the only thing we could do was to have a conservatorship. We were so concerned it was on the up-and-up that we made sure the biological mother came to court.”
Tuohy also spoke about the family’s relationship with Oher over the years, noting that they remained close throughout his professional football career (he retired from the NFL in 2016). While the relationship had started to become more distant in recent years, Tuohy said he was still shocked by Oher’s petition and allegations.
“It’s hard because you have to defend yourself, but whatever he wants, we’ll do,” he said. “We’re not in this for anything other than whatever he wants. If he’d have said, ‘I don’t want to be part of the family anymore,’ we’d have been very upset, but we absolutely would have done it.”