By: Connor Waas

It would be difficult to find someone who has neither seen nor heard of the heartwarming story depicted in the 2009 film The Blind Side. The film, directed by John Lee Hancock and starring Sandra Bullock (who earned an Oscar for her performance), along with Quinton Aaron, brought in over $3,900,00 around the world.[1] The film depicted the true story of the Tuohy family taking a young Michael Oher off the streets and into their home.[2] Leigh Anne Tuohy “offers [Michael Oher] a stable home, a caring family and the opportunity to follow his dreams.”[3] Unfortunately, the happy ending portrayed in the film does not appear to show the full story.

On August 14, 2023, Michael Oher filed a petition with the Probate Court of Shelby County, Tennessee.[4] In his petition, Oher claims that the Tuohy family convinced him that he was signing adoption papers when, in reality, he would be appointing Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy as his conservators.[5] A conservatorship is a “judicial tool that enables a court to legally remove a disabled adult’s decision-making capabilities” and instead granting them to another.[6] These arrangements implement serious restrictions on one’s ability to live freely. Those living under a conservatorship lose the ability to “make decisions regarding their own medical care, … control their money, manage their property, decide to marry, [and] sign a contract.”[7]

Generally, a conservatorship is granted when there is a showing of “mental illness, physical illness or injury, developmental disability, or other mental or physical incapacity.”[8] Such a showing acts as a safeguard against the abuse of this power, as conservatorships place a serious restriction on one’s freedom. The purpose of a conservatorship is to “protect the person and property of a disabled person,” and the presence of this safeguard furthers this goal.[9] In Michael’s case, however, no such burden of proof appeared to be met.

Oher’s petition was assigned to Shelby County Probate Judge Kathleen Gomes who, on September 29, 2023, terminated the arrangement.[10] Judge Gomes went so far as to state that “she was disturbed that such an agreement was ever reached,” especially since it concerned “someone who was not disabled.”[11]

The Tuohy’s claimed that they chose to use a conservatorship when the NCAA allegedly made it clear that Oher had to be “part of the Tuohy family in some fashion.”[12] They stated that the conservatorship was merely the “tool” chosen to accomplish this goal.[13]

In addition to seeking an end to their conservatorship over him, Oher is seeking the disclosure of nineteen years’ worth of financial records.[14] He claims that the Tuohy family has sought to “enrich themselves at [Oher’s] expense,” granting themselves unlimited access to his name, image, and likeness.[15] Whether or not the Tuohy’s did this under the guise of a fake adoption is likely to be decided by a jury, as Judge Gomes “said she was not dismissing the case.”[16]

Regardless of the outcome of Oher’s claims against the Tuohy’s, his case presents a concerning dilemma that may become more prevalent given the modern landscape of collegiate sports. Following National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston, “the NCAA adopted an interim NIL policy, suspending its prohibition on college athletes receiving benefits from their name, image, and likeness for all sports and athletes.”[17] As a result, college athletes are earning as much as $6.1 million and, on average, between $1,524 and $1,815. [18]

The ability of college athletes to begin earning money from their name, image, and likeness provides an incentive for adults to take advantage of young athletes. While the Tuohy’s may not have sought to capitalize on Oher’s athletic potential, an additional avenue to take advantage of young athletes is nevertheless open due to this development. This provides yet another reason for courts to remain vigilant when granting conservatorships, only allowing them when truly necessary to keep a bad actor from controlling a promising young athlete’s finances.

[1] The Blind Side (2009) Awards, IMDB, [];  The Blind Side (2009), Box Office Mojo, [].

[2] The Blind Side, Warner Bros., [].

[3] Id.

[4] Petition To Terminate Conservatorship, For Accounting, And Other Relief at 1, In re: Michael Jerome Williams, Jr., No: C-010333.

[5] Id. at 3.

[6] Tricia M. York, Conservatorship Proceedings and Due Process: Protecting the Elderly in Tennessee, 36 U. Mem. L. Rev. 491, 492 (2006).

[7] Id. at 497.

[8] Tenn. Code Ann. § 34-3-101(14) (2001).

[9] In re Conservatorship of Clayton, 914 S.W.2d 84, 90 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995).

[10] Adrian Sainz, Judge Says She is Ending Conservatorship Between Former NFL Player Michael Oher and Memphis Couple, The Associated Press (Sept. 29, 2023), [].

[11] Id.

[12] Marlene Lenthang & Diana Dasrath, ‘Blind Side’ Tuohy Family Say There was no ‘Intent to Adopt’ Michael Oher, Deny Profiting Off His Name, NBC News (Sept. 15, 2023), [].

[13] Id.

[14] Nardine Saad, Michael Oher Accuses Tuohys of Hiding 19 Years’ Worth of Financial Records From Him, Los Angeles Times (Aug. 22, 2023), [].

[15] Id.

[16] Sainz, supra note 11.

[17] Arianna Banks, The Supreme Court Gets the Ball Rolling: NCAA v. Alston and Title IX, 117 Nw. U. L. Rev. 549, 564 (2022).

[18] Barry Werner, Top NIL Earners in NCAA, Yahoo Sports (Sept. 14, 2023), []; Erica Hunzinger, One Year of NIL: How Much Have Athletes Made?, NBC New York (July 7, 2022), [].