The focus for the last week has been on Michael Oher and his relationship with the Tuohys. Oher claims he was tricked into signing conservatorship documents and Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy allege that Michael is attempting to shake them down of money. It’s a classic battle of “he said, she said,” and there is no clear resolution in sight.
Michael Lewis, the author of the 2006 book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game,” (the book the movie was based on) recently gave his thoughts on the situation, saying that Oher has turned down royalty checks from the movie and that the “money is not in the Tuohys’ pockets.”
The Root spoke to Oher five days prior to his petition against the Tuohys, regarding the 2009 film. Check out the video.
But just days before Lewis he made those statements, a short clip from an interview he did nearly 16 years ago resurfaced on the internet, and it showed him making some questionable comments about Michael Oher’s college grades and the state of college football at the time.
When he was asked about how Oher was doing at Ole Miss academically, he said, “Google him now, he’s on the dean’s list at Ole Miss, which says a lot about the dean’s list at Ole Miss,” which led to laughs from the crowd in attendance.
He later continues, “There are schools like Ole Miss, and Ole Miss isn’t even the best example, they seem mainly to exist to sustain a football team. And then they take these kids, many of whom are from the underclass — poor black kids from ghettos around America — and let them into the school. … And then they make a track for them inside the school — and the track is not designed for them to get an education or even to engage with the school outside the football team.”
Lewis later added that all the football players at Ole Miss major in criminal justice, but then clarified and gave credit to Michael for pursuing a degree in journalism and saying that he is taking classes with “ordinary students.”
Oher eventually did graduate from Ole Miss with a criminal justice degree in the spring of 2009.
First and foremost, I understand that this is just a three-minute clip cut from an hour-long video. This short clip does not tell the whole story about Lewis’ thoughts on Oher, but it does tell us some of it.
His initial answer (or joke) about Michael making the dean’s list is totally out of the question and uncalled for. He’s essentially insinuating that the academic standards at Ole Miss are low enough so even someone with Oher’s intelligence can make the dean’s list. Instead of celebrating Michael’s accomplishment, he made a mockery of it and in a way, influenced how we viewed Michael Oher until recently.
In Lewis’ 2006 book, he claims that Michael is, “one of thirteen children by a mother addicted to crack; he does not know his real name, his father, his birthday, or any of the things a child might learn in school—like, say, how to read or write.” But according to Oher’s lawyer, J. Gerard Stranch IV, “Oher was academically gifted, which is how he managed to get into the Memphis private school where he would meet the Tuohy children and their parents.”
If this is true, why would Lewis depict Michael as an academically challenged teenager? Why would the creators of the movie bring it to life in a movie?
It’s incredibly frustrating and yet another example of a Black person’s story being changed and altered for the benefit of others. But despite these heinous comments that have resurfaced, I tend to agree with Lewis when he talks about the structure of college football. Yes, he’s putting Black student-athletes into a box, claiming that they don’t go to school to get an education but instead as a factory to have a good football team.
While that is a shallow way to think about it, I tend to agree. Schools such as Ole Miss, Alabama, LSU, Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida State (which he mentioned) want their football team to be good. That is the top priority over anything else. Many of the best high school football players in the country are going to these huge college football programs to win big and then go to the NFL. The same could be said for high school basketball stars, many of the best ones aren’t there for a four-year education, they are in school to get noticed and then get drafted to the pros.
It was the reality of college sports 16 years ago and is still the reality now.
Yes, a majority of student-athletes aren’t going to school to go pro, but Lewis was not referring to them. He was specifically talking about universities that make beaucoup bucks from football and basketball. They want their students to be good on the field of play and don’t nearly care as much about how they do in the classroom. As long as they are on the field, it’s cool with them.