Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy have spoken out against claims that they tricked former NFL tackle Michael Oher into a conservatorship instead of adopting him, and made millions off his name while he received nothing.
In a statement from the Tuohy family lawyer, obtained by The Associated Press, the Tuohys called the lawsuit “hurtful and absurd” and said it was part of a “shakedown” attempt by Oher, 37, whose life story inspired the book and movie The Blind Side.
Lawyer Martin Singer claims that Oher attempted to extract money from the Tuohy family in the past when he threatened to plant a negative story about them in the press if the Tuohys didn’t pay him US$15 million (just over C$20 million).
“They have consistently treated him like a son and one of their three children,” Singer said in the statement. “His response was to threaten them, including saying that he would plant a negative story about them in the press unless they paid him $15 million.”
The statement goes on to say that the idea that the Tuohys sought to profit off Oher is “not only offensive, it is transparently ridiculous.” The statement notes the Tuohys are worth “hundreds of millions of dollars” and had no need to “withhold a few thousand dollars.”
The Tuohys made their money by owning a string of fast-food franchises.
Singer said the Tuohys hope Oher regrets his recent decisions and that they can reconcile.
“In the meantime, however, they will not hesitate to defend their good names, stand up to this shakedown and defeat this offensive lawsuit,” the statement says.
The Tuohys, however, do not deny that they have a conservatorship over Oher, though they insist they only set it up to help him with health insurance, a driver’s licence and being admitted to college. The statement says the Tuohys will not oppose Oher’s wish to end their conservatorship.
In an interview with the Daily Memphian, Sean Tuohy said he was “devastated” by the lawsuit but still loves Oher, nonetheless.
“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 said.
Sean Tuohy also contends that the family tried to adopt Oher around the time the conservatorship papers were signed, but they were unable to because Oher had already turned 18. Only then did they decide on a conservatorship.
In the state of Tennessee, where the Tuohys live, the adoption of adults is permitted, according to law firm Anderson Hunter.
Oher filed a petition Monday in Shelby County Probate Court asking a judge to terminate the conservatorship initiated by the Tuohys in 2004 — months after he turned 18.
“Michael trusted the Tuohys and signed where they told him to sign,” the legal filing reads. “What he signed, however, and unknown to Michael until after February 2023, were not adoption papers, or the equivalent of adoption papers.”
Oher learned “that the Conservatorship to which he consented on the basis that doing so would make him a member of the Tuohy family, in fact provided him no familial relationship with the Tuohys,” according to his petition.
He is also asking for a full accounting of his assets considering his life story produced millions of dollars through the movie The Blind Side. He says he received nothing.
Oher has never been a fan of the movie about his life, in which his purported adoption by the Tuohy family plays a central element to the plot. He claims in his petition that four members of the Tuohy family — Sean, Leigh Anne, and their two children — each made over US$200,000 from the movie outright, in addition to 2.5 per cent in residuals.
Oher’s lawyer J. Gerard Stranch IV told ESPN that the former NFLer recently learned he was the only one not receiving royalty checks for the movie, and hired Stranch to look into it. That’s when the lawyer uncovered the conservatorship papers that showed Oher was never formally adopted by the Tuohys.
“Mike didn’t grow up with a stable family life. When the Tuohy family told Mike they loved him and wanted to adopt him, it filled a void that had been with him his entire life,” Stranch told ESPN. “Discovering that he wasn’t actually adopted devastated Mike and wounded him deeply.”
According to the Tuohy family statement, agents negotiated a small advance from the production company for The Blind Side, which was based on the book written by Sean Tuohy’s friend Michael Lewis. That included “a tiny percentage of net profits” divided equally with the Tuohys and Oher.
The family’s lawyer claims they have evidence of this in the form of profit participation cheques and studio accounting statements.
He claims Oher refused to cash these “small profit checks” as part of his “shakedown effort,” so the Tuohys deposited Oher’s share into a trust account set up for the former NFLer’s son.
The Tuohys insist they received “not one penny” as Oher’s conservators.
The statement claims that Oher has tried this “several times before” only to have lawyers stop representing him once they learned the truth. The statement called this a “cynical attempt” as part of Oher’s latest book tour.
Oher was the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Mississippi, and he spent his first five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens where he won a Super Bowl. He played 110 games over eight NFL seasons, including 2014 when he started 11 games for the Tennessee Titans. Oher finished his career with two years in Carolina.
— With files from The Associated Press
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