Is The Blind Side Based on a True Story?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Blind Side" by Michael Lewis. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is The Blind Side based on a true story? What is The Blind Side really about?

After the award-winning film was released, many people asked: is The Blind Side based on a true story? The answer is yes. The Blind Side is based on Michael Oher and how he met the family that changed his life.

Is The Blind Side based on a true story? Read to find out.

The Blind Side: Based on a True Story

Is The Blind Side based on a true story? Absolutely. The Tuohys and Michael Oher met and became family, and Michael Oher went on to have a football career.

The Birth of the Passing Game

An important part of the question “Is The Blind Side based on a true story?” is understanding how football changed before Michael Oher started playing. In the 1960s and 1970s, Lawrence Taylor wouldn’t have been as much of a threat as he was. Teams in the NFL were more prone to run the ball, rather than pass it. But a man named Bill Walsh changed all of that because of a deficiency in talent. When Walsh joined the Cincinnati Bengals in 1965 as the offensive line coach, his quarterback could barely throw longer than 20 yards. This wasn’t a problem until his teams failed to make the first down and were required to pass the ball. 

To address the issue, Walsh designed a system that became known as the “West Coast Offense,” in which the quarterback threw short, quick passes to specific spots on the field where running backs would be waiting. This tactic removed the need to step back and scan the field and reduced the number of turnovers because of the quick release. It also removed the danger of the sack to the quarterback, since the ball was now held for no longer than seconds. 

Walsh was successful in his strategy and spent 15 years making less-talented quarterbacks seem like gods, including Joe Montana, considered one of the best quarterbacks ever. With the rise in the quarterback’s status came an increase in their salary, and teams started shelling out big bucks to acquire players with stable and consistent arms. But then Walsh came up against Taylor, whose speed was too great. He was able to dismantle the West Coast Offense in a way that had never happened before. 

This intersection of Taylor’s threat to now highly paid quarterbacks increased the value of quick-footed left tackles. The left tackle position turned into the second-highest paid position on the field and the focus of recruiters down in the college and high school ranks. The hunt for these freaks of nature that could fulfill this role was on, and a boy named Michael Oher from Memphis was perfect in every way. This is the beginning of the question “is The Blind Side based on a true story?”

From the Projects to High Society

Micheal Oher lived in the worst housing projects in Memphis, known as Hurt Village. The community was riddled with drugs and gang violence. Michael had been in and out of foster care homes between the ages of 7 and 10. Although his mother, who struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, lived in the village, she was unable to care for him and his siblings. He was often left to his own devices, went hungry, and didn’t attend school. 

As was the norm in many of the public schools in the inner city, Michael was passed up from grade to grade without learning anything. He had a dream of playing in the NBA, but his chances of making it were slim. With his lack of education or resources, the most likely future for Michael was as a member of the local gang. 

But that all changed when he met Big Tony. Big Tony was a basketball and football coach who came back to Hurt Village often to recruit young players. He saw potential in this 15-year-old boy who weighed more than 300 pounds and stood at 6’5”. He could see the path Michael was going down and wanted to help. He took Michael in and let him sleep on his floor. Tony had a son named Steven, and he’d promised his dying mother he would take Steven across town to East Memphis where the wealthy Christian private schools were located to get a proper education. Since Michael was staying with him, he decided to take Michael, too. 

Finding a Home

Steven and Michael enrolled in Briarcrest Christian School. Steven was an excellent student and had no trouble getting in, but Michael was different. He had an IQ of 80 and a GPA of 0.56. The only reason he was let in was that the football coach saw his size and the principal took pity on him. Michael was quiet and shy and struggled to communicate with others. He didn’t know how to learn in a normal way and had a hard time passing his classes. But the teachers could tell that he was not stupid and required allowances to help him learn. When he finally got his grades up from Fs to Ds and Cs, they allowed him to play sports. 

Before then, Michael used to hang around the basketball courts watching practice. One day, a man named Sean Tuohy saw Michael in the stands and immediately felt a connection with him. Sean could tell Michael was poor and knew he wore the same clothes every day. Sean had grown up poor in Louisiana but now owned 85 chain restaurants and a private jet. He and his wife, Leigh Anne, were pillars in society, and he often donated money to Briarcrest to help students who couldn’t afford the tuition. He figured Michael probably hadn’t eaten, so he went over and offered him help. When Michael refused the offer, Sean put money in his school account to cover lunches for the rest of the year. 

Leigh Anne took a different tack with Michael. After meeting him and seeing that he had no possessions or real home, she took him shopping. That day, Michael and Leigh Anne made a personal connection, and she sort of fell in love with this sweet giant boy. Over the next several months, Michael stayed on the Tuohys’ couch whenever he wasn’t able to make the long trip back to West Memphis. He became one of the family, and Leigh Anne finally decided he would live with them for good. 

Becoming a Star

Michael was a talented basketball player, and before he started to grow into his current size, he practiced day and night in Hurt Village to become the next Michael Jordan. This training made him fast and nimble, and he kept those skills as he grew. But he didn’t have any fire in his belly. When he first joined the football team at Briarcrest, he was afraid to block the other players and was basically ineffective. He spent more of his junior year on the bench. 

But a man named Tom Lemming changed everything when he learned about Michael. Lemming was the premier high school football scout in the nation, and his scouting reports were read by nearly every Division I and II college program. When the Briarcrest coach sent him a tape of Michael chasing down a tiny running back during one game like he was a sprinter, Lemming saw right away that this kid was a freak of nature. He was perfect for the prized position of left tackle, and he told the world about Michael Oher. 

Suddenly, coaches from the top football programs in the country were showing up to watch Michael play. Leigh Anne and Sean were skeptical because of his docile character, but Michael proved that he had aggression in him if he was pushed enough. In the first game of his senior season, he became so fed up with the heckling of a lineman on the other team, he picked the 220-pound player up like he was a doll and carried him off the field. 

Extra training by his coaches helped Michael learn how to play left tackle, and he became one of the best players in the state of Tennessee. Offers were pouring in from different schools, but in the end, he chose to accept a full-ride scholarship to Ole Miss, the alma mater of both Leigh Anne and Sean. The only problem was that his grades had not improved alongside his football skills. He’d been working with a tutor named Sue Mitchell for almost a year and was making more As and Bs than Cs and Ds, but his transcript was so poor, the increase wasn’t enough. 

Sean took Michael to see a psychological examiner to determine whether he had a learning disability. If he did, he could get more time to improve his grades. The examiner determined that Michael had never been taught to read properly but had an amazing gift for memorization. She also learned that his IQ was actually 100-110, which made him average. Because of his average IQ, he was now technically learning below where he should be, and he was certified as having a legitimate learning disability. This diagnosis allowed Michael to take extra classes through an online system to boost his GPA. Finally, the summer after his senior year, he became eligible to play NCAA ball. 

Is the Blind Side Based on a True Story? The Truth of Those Left Behind

Michael’s inability to see the blessings that afforded him his life made him resentful of people from his past who now wanted help. He didn’t feel like he owed anyone anything, and anyway, he didn’t have anything to give. He was still an amateur athlete in college and hadn’t earned a single cent, but that didn’t keep his family and friends from West Memphis from calling. 

Once, Michael had stated he would buy a house big enough for his mom and all his siblings when he reached the NFL. But now he stopped returning his mother’s calls and rarely returned his siblings’. He thought that because they started in the same place, they should be able to turn their own lives around, like he had. 

Part of Michael’s attitude was his feeling that he hadn’t changed as a person. He was still the same kid from Hurt Village, just in a new environment. But there was still one person Michael felt connected to and wanted to help. His old friend Craig from childhood was still a close friend. As soon as Michael got his driver’s license, he started bringing Craig to the Tuohy house. And he knew he would take Craig with him when he went pro. 

What made Craig so special was that Michael trusted him because he felt he was one of the only people who didn’t want something from him. Craig never asked for help, and when Michael offered it, he turned it down. Michael took that as a sign of Craig’s integrity, which made him want to help him more. Michael also felt comfortable with Craig because he was the only person who understood that Michael was still the same person he’d always been. 

But it would be another two years before Michael could reach his dream of playing in the NFL and helping his friend. He was a sophomore at Ole Miss and couldn’t be drafted until after his junior year. But there was no doubt that he would make it, not for Michael or anyone else. 

Michael started every game for Ole Miss his sophomore year and made the Dean’s List with a 3.75 GPA. He was focused in college and told those around him that he would stay and graduate, but inside he knew it wasn’t true. If the NFL came knocking when he became eligible, he was going to answer. 

Michael no longer looks backwards toward his past. He rarely goes to West Memphis and spends the majority of his time away from the team with his family, the Tuohys. He has successfully shed one life and replaced it with a newer, shinier life. He beat the odds stacked up against him with the wind of the white world, once a presence to hold him down, now pushing him forward. But there is nothing remarkable about this to Michael. It is what it is.  

So is The Blind Side based on a true story? Yes!

Is The Blind Side Based on a True Story?

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Michael Lewis's "The Blind Side" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Blind Side summary:

  • How Michael Oher went from the projects in Memphis to the NFL
  • Why the combination of size and speed became essential for football stars
  • How Oher was taken in by the wealthy Tuohy family

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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