Oher isn't that difficult to spot. Not at 6-foot-4 and 309 pounds. But, apparently, the place I am least likely to see him around town is at the neighborhood Cineplex going to see "The Blind Side," the movie about his remarkable rise from the mean streets of Memphis to stardom in the National Football League. Oher doesn't seem that interested. He passed on the gala premier in New York a few weeks back, thus missing a chance to hob nob with the movie's stars Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw. A few days ago, when the Baltimore Sun asked, he still hadn't seen the film.
I can appreciate Oher's ambivalence. At least, I think I can. On the one hand, his life is a testament to the power of resolve, love and, above all, serendipity. I'm amazed by it. And after three decades as a sports journalist, I thought I was just about amaze-proof.
On the other hand, the movie-- like Michael Lewis's book, on which the movie is based-- alerts a lot of people, who probably have never heard of Michael Oher, to some pretty awful truths about his early years. He grew up poor and at times homeless. His father was mostly absent. His mother's crack addiction ruled and ruined her life. Michael rarely attended school and learned little when he did. As a young teen, he could barely read. He carried, if that's the word, a grade point average of 0.6.
Oher's fortunes turned one day when a family friend knocked on the door of a suburban, wealthy and overwhelmingly white private school, urging officials there to accept Michael. Initially, there were a few reservations, all well placed. Oher barely spoke when spoken to. He was totally unprepared to keep up with the class work. But he clearly was a good kid who has been deprived of so much, and he was worth making an exception for in part because Oher (pronounced "Oar") looked like he could play the entire offensive line for the Briarcrest Christian School.
You know the rest. By his junior year, college coaches were swooning over Oher. As the movie ends, he's a football star at Ole Miss and on a path to the National Football League. I liked the movie well enough. I give it three stars and six Kleenex, which is what it took to stem my wife's tears.
Unlike Lewis's book, though, the movie is more gloss than substance, more inspirational nice-kid-gets-his-chance melodrama than nuanced, real-life story of a kid who repaid every debt. The part of Oher's story that gets shortest shrift is the part that interests me the most. Why are all these upscale, privileged white folks reaching out a hand to Michael Oher?
The movie takes a few tentative passes at this, but at teasing out the complicated mix of motives, Lewis's "The Blind Side" is a lot better. He gives us a complete, if, at times, contradictory, picture of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, the wealthy benefactors who become Oher's guardians; about Hugh Freeze, the Briarcrest football coach; and about a legion of tutors and teachers. All did wonderful things for Oher, advocating, pushing, and promoting his interests in ways that might seem petty to challenge or second guess. But the reality is that whatever their reasons for helping rescue Oher might have been, they benefited-- especially on football Saturdays.
Oher ended up playing football at the University of Mississippi, where the Tuohys are alums and devoted fans of the football team. (The movie deals with that conflict, perceived or real.) Freeze was hired as an assistant coach at-- surprise-- Ole Miss. (Unless I wept through that part, it's not mentioned.)
Michael Oher knows all that and presumably has made his peace with it. Maybe that's why he's in no hurry to see the movie.