The author of “The Blind Side,” Michael Lewis, says he’s saddened by the lawsuit breaking up former NFL star Michael Oher and the Tuohy family — the subjects of his best-selling book-turned-movie.
Oher, 37, alleged in a bombshell court filing Monday that he had never actually been adopted by Leigh Anne Tuohy and Sean Tuohy, who took him in as a teenager — that he had actually been placed into a conservatorship.
He further claimed that the Tuohys had profited from his name and likeness and cut him out of the profits from the Oscar-winning film, according to his petition. The movie grossed more than $300 million worldwide.
“What I feel really sad about is I watched the whole thing up close,” Lewis, a childhood friend of Sean Tuohy who wrote the 2006 book "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game," told The Washington Post Wednesday. “They showered him with resources and love. That he’s suspicious of them is breathtaking.”
“The state of mind one has to be in to do that — I feel sad for him,” Lewis added.
No one raked in major profits from 'The Blind Side' movie, author says
In his petition, Oher claimed he didn't make any money from a film that was based on his life story.
Lewis said that despite the movie’s success, the Tuohys and those involved in the book didn’t actually make a windfall.
“Everybody should be mad at the Hollywood studio system,” Lewis said. “Michael Oher should join the writers strike. It’s outrageous how Hollywood accounting works, but the money is not in the Tuohys’ pockets.”
According to the petition, the Tuohys negotiated a deal with 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios) that left Oher without any payment for the rights to his name, likeness and life story, while the Tuohy family received a contract price of $225,000 and 2.5% of the film’s net proceeds. NBC News has reached out to 20th Century Studios for comment.
Oher said he did not recall signing the agreement for the rights to his life story. The document has a signature that appears to be his, but “nobody ever presented this document to him with any explanation,” the filing says.
However, attorneys for the Tuohys said in a briefing Wednesday that the five members of the family — including Oher — received $100,000 each from the movie, and the couple paid taxes on Oher's portion.
“Michael got every dime, every dime he had coming,” Randall Fishman, an attorney representing the Tuohys, said.
Martin Singer, another attorney for the Tuohys, said in a statement Tuesday that there's evidence that profit participation checks and studio accounting statements were issued to Oher and when Oher refused to cash the checks, the Tuohys deposited Oher’s share into a trust account for his son.
Over the past decade, Oher has become estranged from the Tuohys, attorneys said Wednesday.
Singer's statement Tuesday said that Oher threatened the Tuohys "about what he would do" unless they paid him an "eight-figure windfall" in a "shakedown effort."
Discovering he wasn't adopted
The allegations in the petition are a major shake-up from Oher's life story as told in Lewis' book and the subsequent film.
The movie “The Blind Side” chronicled Oher’s life as a homeless child, his "adoption" by the Tuohy family, and his football career from college to the NFL.
Oher said he learned in February that he wasn't actually adopted. He said he learned that the documents he thought were a part of the adoption process and signed over two decades ago were actually conservatorship papers that would strip away his legal rights, the petition said.
Lawyers for the Tuohys argued Wednesday that he did know he was under a conservatorship because he mentioned it in his 2011 book “I Beat the Odds.”
In that book, he seemed to genuinely believe the conservatorship was a form of adoption for legal adults.
“Since I was already over the age of eighteen and considered an adult by the state of Tennessee, Sean and Leigh Anne would be named as my ‘legal conservators.’ They explained to me it means pretty much the exact same thing as ‘adoptive parents,’ but that the laws were just written in a way that took my age into account,” Oher wrote.
Lewis told The Washington Post he believed the Tuohy family chose conservatorship over adoption because it was faster and they were concerned about the National Collegiate Athletics Association investigating his choice to attend the University of Mississippi, the Tuohys’ alma mater and where they were boosters.
The Tuohys' attorneys echoed that reason on Wednesday saying conservatorship was chosen above adoption to "satisfy" the NCAA.
The conservatorship was granted until Oher reached the age of 25 or until the court terminated the order, but the arrangement was never terminated, Oher’s petition said. He asked the court to terminate the conservatorship and issue an injunction barring the Tuohys from using his name and likeness.
Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy will consent to end the conservatorship, their lawyer, Randall Fishman, told reporters on Wednesday.