The former N.F.L. player Michael Oher, whose journey out of poverty and into football stardom was dramatized in the 2009 movie “The Blind Side,” asked a Tennessee court on Monday to formally end his legal relationship with the family who took him in, claiming that he had never actually been adopted and had been tricked into signing away his decision-making powers so the family could make millions of dollars off his life story.
Oher, 37, is seeking a termination of the conservatorship that began when he was 18, plus money that he says he should have earned from the movie, as well as an injunction preventing Leigh Anne Tuohy and Sean Tuohy from using his name and likeness.
The petition, filed in Shelby County in Tennessee, claims that when he thought he was being adopted, the Tuohys urged him to sign a conservatorship in which he relinquished his ability enter into contracts. The lawsuit also claims that Oher, who stared living with the Tuohys at age 16, unknowingly signed away the rights to his life story to 20th Century Fox in 2007.
Oher’s lawyer, J. Gerard Stranch IV, was not immediately available to comment, according to his office.
For “The Blind Side,” the hit film that starred Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, Tim McGraw as Sean Tuohy and Quinton Aaron as Oher, the Tuohys negotiated a contract of $225,000 plus 2.5 percent of future “defined net proceeds” for themselves and their biological children, the lawsuit said.
Oher says in the lawsuit that he received nothing while the movie generated more than $300 million in revenue worldwide.
The Tuohy family did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The New York Times. In an interview with The Daily Memphian on Monday, Sean Tuohy said that he had been “devastated” to hear about the lawsuit and that it was “upsetting to think we would make money off any of our children.” Tuohy said that he would be willing to end the conservatorship and that everybody in his family, including Oher, got an equal share from the movie, around $14,000.
Sean Tuohy went on to say the conservatorship had been intended to allow Oher to play at the University of Mississippi, which he and his wife attended.
In Tennessee, a conservatorship is defined as an arrangement in which a court removes at least some “decision-making powers and duties” from “a person with a disability who lacks capacity to make decisions in one or more important areas” and grants those duties to a conservator or co-conservators. The 2004 order that granted Oher’s conservatorship to the Tuohys states that Oher appeared to have “no known physical or psychological disabilities.”
According to the petition, Oher only recently found out — in February this year — that he had not been legally adopted. Oher agreed to enter into the conservatorship thinking that it was a required part of the adoption process, the lawsuit says.
Oher, who retired from football in 2017, was selected with the No. 23 overall pick in the 2009 N.F.L. draft by the Baltimore Ravens and played eight N.F.L. seasons as an offensive tackle for the Ravens, the Tennessee Titans and the Carolina Panthers. He won the Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2013.
He played college football from 2005 to 2009 at Mississippi, where he earned two first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors, in 2007 and 2008, and was named a consensus first-team all-American in 2008.
“The Blind Side,” which was released in 2009 and was adapted from a 2006 book by Michael Lewis, depicts Oher as a poor teenager growing up in Memphis and looking after his mother, who was addicted to cocaine. The movie portrays Oher as a naturally talented athlete, at both basketball and football, who is spotted by a coach at a local private school, which later admits him. Oher comes to know the Tuohys’ son, Sean Jr., before moving in with them and earning a scholarship to Mississippi.
But Oher seemed uncomfortable with the movie’s depiction of him, and what it meant for his career. In a 2015 interview, when he was playing for the Panthers, Oher said that the movie had portrayed him as less intelligent than he was and had influenced how people saw him within the sport.
“People look at me and they take things away from me because of a movie,” Oher said. “They don’t really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That’s why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field.”