‘Blind Side’s’ Michael Oher accused of $15-million shakedown

Michael Oher, the NFL veteran whose life inspired the movie “The Blind Side” and who is suing his conservators Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, is now being accused of repeatedly attempting to shake down the couple for $15 million.

The couple’s attorney, Martin D. Singer, released a scathing statement about Oher’s petition, which the football star filed Monday in Tennessee probate court alleging that the couple had tricked him into a conservatorship and withheld revenue from the 2009 film that earned Sandra Bullock a best actress Oscar.

Singer asserted that the Tuohys would be willing to terminate their “upfront” conservatorship if Oher desired, but also “will not hesitate to defend their good names, stand up to this shakedown and defeat this offensive lawsuit.”

The former Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers tackle alleged in his filing that he gave the rights to his life story away to 20th Century Fox in 2007 “without any payment whatsoever” and that he was missing profits from John Lee Hancock’s 2009 film, which grossed $309 million at the worldwide box office. (Meanwhile, some people have called on Bullock, whose spitfire turn as Leigh Anne Tuohy in the film earned her an Academy Award, to give back her Oscar.)

“Anyone with a modicum of common sense can see that the outlandish claims made by Michael Oher about the Tuohy family are hurtful and absurd,” Singer said Wednesday in a statement to The Times.

“The idea that the Tuohys have ever sought to profit off Mr. Oher is not only offensive, it is transparently ridiculous,” he continued. “Through hard work and good fortune, Sean and Leigh Anne have made an extraordinary amount of money in the restaurant business. The notion that a couple worth hundreds of millions of dollars would connive to withhold a few thousand dollars in profit participation payments from anyone — let alone from someone they loved as a son — defies belief.”

Attorneys for Oher did not immediately respond Wednesday to The Times’ requests for comment.

Singer’s statement aligns with an interview Sean Tuohy gave the Daily Memphian this week. Tuohy, a Memphis Grizzlies sports commentator said he was devastated by Oher’s lawsuit and noted that he didn’t need money, given the $200-million sale of his fast-food franchises. He also defended the family’s use of the legal guardianship instead of adopting Oher. Tuohy explained that he couldn’t legally adopt someone who was over 18 and also — because he and his wife were Ole Miss boosters — needed to show a familial tie with the athlete to avoid possible trouble with the NCAA after Oher chose to attend the school.

In his petition, the 37-year-old former football star alleged that he didn’t learn the nature of the 2004 conservatorship petition until February of this year and that it ultimately “provided him no familial relationship with the Tuohys.”

However, in his 2011 book, “I Beat the Odds,” Oher wrote that he knew the Tuohys had been named his legal conservators and that he had been told that “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.”

“Honestly, I didn’t care what it was called. I was just happy that no one could argue that we weren’t legally what we already knew was real: We were a family,” he wrote, adding that his mother attended the hearing to agree that she supported the decision to have the Tuohys “listed as my next of kin and legal conservators.” (Tuohy told the Daily Memphian they did so to ensure that the arrangement was “on the up-and-up.”)

But Oher was far more combative in his Monday petition. The retired offensive lineman accused the couple of having “falsely and publicly represented themselves” as his adoptive parents to benefit their own interests. He not only asked the Tennessee probate court to end the conservatorship, but also to issue an injunction barring the Tuohys from using his name, image and likeness, as well as “continuing false claims” that they adopted him.

Oher alleged that he was presented with the conservatorship papers “almost immediately” after he moved in with the Tuohys as a teen and was tricked into signing the documents, a step he believed at the time was necessary in his adoption process. His attorneys accused the Tuohys of viewing Oher as “a gullible young man whose athletic talent could be exploited for their own benefit” and who “enriched themselves at the expense of their Ward,” specifically through contract deals they made on his behalf.

Singer patently refuted those claims.

“In reality, the Tuohys opened their home to Mr. Oher, offered him structure, support and, most of all, unconditional love,” Singer’s statement said. “They have consistently treated him like a son and one of their three children. 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.”

Singer said that when “The Blind Side” author Michael Lewis, a childhood friend of Sean Tuohy, was approached about turning his 2006 book about the family into a movie, Lewis’ agents negotiated a deal “where they received a small advance from the production company and a tiny percentage of net profits.”

“They insisted that any money received be divided equally. And they have made good on that pledge,” Singer said. “The evidence — documented in profit participation checks and studio accounting statements — is clear: Over the years, the Tuohys have given Mr. Oher an equal cut of every penny received from ‘The Blind Side.’”

Tuohy told the Daily Memphian that Lewis gave the family “half of his share” and “everybody in the family got an equal share, including Michael [Oher].” He estimated that the shares were “about $14,000, each.” (Oher has been public for years about his distaste for the film.)

Singer’s statement said that Oher allegedly threatened the couple over “an eight-figure windfall” and allegedly refused to cash small profit checks from the Tuohys” as “part of that shakedown effort.” However, he said, the Tuohys still deposited Oher’s equal share into a trust account they set up for his son.

“The Tuohys have always been upfront about how a conservatorship (from which not one penny was received) was established to assist with Mr. Oher’s needs, ranging from getting him health insurance and obtaining a driver’s license to helping with college admissions,” he said. “Should Mr. Oher wish to terminate the conservatorship, either now or at anytime in the future, the Tuohys will never oppose it in any way.”

Singer added that Oher “attempted to run this play several times before,” alleging that numerous lawyers stopped representing him “once they saw the evidence and learned the truth.”

“Sadly, Mr. Oher has finally found a willing enabler and filed this ludicrous lawsuit as a cynical attempt to drum up attention in the middle of his latest book tour,” he added.

Actor Quinton Aaron, who played Oher in the “The Blind Side,” entered the discourse Wednesday to defend the Tuohy family, whom he said he didn’t believe had a questionable relationship with Oher.

“I got a good sense from all of them,” he told TMZ, adding: “They were real cool to me.”

He also rejected calls online for Bullock to give up her Oscar.

“To make a statement like that doesn’t make any sense. Sandra Bullock didn’t have anything to do with the real story that we’re reading as of right now,” Aaron said.

“She gave a brilliant performance, and that shouldn’t be tarnished for something that had nothing to do with her,” he added.

A representatives for Bullock, whose longtime partner Bryan Randall recently died from ALS, did not immediately respond Wednesday to The Times’ request for comment.