Growing up virtually abandoned in the poverty-stricken projects of Memphis, Michael Oher had few opportunities. His father was murdered when Michael was a teenager. Though he hadn't been involved in Michael's upbringing, it was just another blow that left the boy more alone than ever. His mother was a crack cocaine addict, so he spent time in various foster homes. With no parental love or guidance, Michael repeated both first and second grade, and attended 11 different schools in his first nine years of school, though it became clear later that he'd received no education at all during that time, but had been given passing grades just to get him through the school system.
At 16, Michael was encouraged by an acquaintance, Tony Henderson, whose floor he was temporarily crashing on, to apply to a private school, Briarcrest Christian School, along with Henderson's son. Michael's football talent captured the attention of the school's coach, but Principal Steve Simpson didn't think Michael, who had a measured I.Q of 80, would be able to handle the academic workload. However, he conceded that if Michael could complete a home-study program for a semester, Briarcrest would admit him. Six weeks later, Tony called Mr. Simpson to ask for helpMichael was unable to follow the program and now it was too late to enroll him in public school. Feeling guilty, Simpson accepted the boy to Briarcrest on one conditionhe couldn't play on any teams until he improved his grades.
It soon became apparent that Michael was not only not academically inclined, but barely spoke, and didn't know basic thingshe'd never heard of the ocean, the tooth fairy, the Civil War, "I Love Lucy" and didn't know what a bird's nest was. Jennifer Graves, Briarcrest's teacher for students with special needs, compared him to a child who'd been locked away in a closet for years.
Collins Tuohy, at the time a Briarcrest sophomore, told her father, Sean, about Michael, and how he wore the same clothes every single day. Because of Michael's size, everyone had been frightened of him at first, until they realized he was even more frightened of them. Despite his size and his neglected upbringing, which soften caused volatility and anger in other youngsters with similar backgrounds, Michael was a gentle giant with no aggressive tendencies.
Sean, a successful businessman, first spotted Michael longingly watching a basketball team practice. He took in the state of Michael's dress, and guessed that the boy probably didn't eat regularly. He offered him money for lunch, but the boy refused. The next day Sean arranged for Michael to have an open account at the school's lunch counter. It was something he'd already done for other poor kids at Briarcrest, and left it at that, until several weeks later, when he and his wife, Leigh Anne, were driving down a main street of Memphis. They spotted Michael, who was wearing the same clothingcut off jeans and a t-shirt, despite the cold, snowy day. They pulled over and asked Michael where he was going. Michael explained he was going to basketball practice, because even though he wasn't allowed on the team, the gym was heated. As they drove home, tears streamed down Leigh Anne's face. The next day, she drove to Briarcrest, picked Michael up and took him shopping for a winter coat.
During Michael's second year at Briarcrest, his teachers discovered that if they tested him orally, he scored D's rather than F's. He was allowed to play sports, and joined first the basketball team, then track-and-field, and finally, football. At 344 pounds, Michael moved faster than Coach Freeze initially believed possible for someone of his weight. By now, Michael was alternating his nights with at least five different Briarcrest families. One night, Leigh Anne gave him a drive to the place he was staying and found it was a small trailer. She insisted on seeing where he slept. It was an old air mattress on the floor, which he explained, ran out of air during the night, even though he filled it each time before going to sleep.
It was the straw that broke Leigh Anne Tuohy's back. She told him he was moving in with her family that very night. He immediately became best friends with their eight-year-old son, Sean Jr. He also got along well with Collins, and eventually, he just became a part of the family. He finally had a bed of his own, and a dresser. Leigh Anne oversaw his studies and hired a tutor for him; Sean became his football coach.
Michael improved both on the field and in his studies, earning A's and B's on his final report card, finishing with a grade-point average of 2.05not quite the 2.65 he needed to get into a college. However, the Tuohys didn't give up. They hired the tutor to help Michael get through Internet courses offered by Brigham Young University. A grade through a BYU course could be completed in 10 days and could be used to replace a grade from an entire high school semester. It wasn't easy, but Michael managed to graduate with his Briarcrest class and received scholarship offers from the University of Tennessee, Louisiana State University, the University of Alabama, and North Carolina State University. He ultimately decided to attend the University of Mississippi, the Tuohy's alma mater. Michael was drafted by the Baltimore Raven in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft and signed a five-year, $13.8 million contract. Oher's life story can be found in The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, written by Michael Lewis.