Sean Tuohy On His Family and Son Michael Oher: It Doesn’t Take A Movie To Change A Life

July 26, 2010 | Ryan Chell

Sean Tuohy has had a great life, and because of that, he has made sure to look for opportunities to make the same impact on someone else.

He got drafted by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school to play baseball, but instead chose to attend the University of Mississippi on a basketball scholarship. Playing at Ole Miss, he became only the fourth Rebel basketball player to make it to the school’s Hall of Fame. He then turned that career into a small stint overseas.

He was voted onto the All-SEC Century team, and led the conference in assists all four years he was at Ole Miss. And while he chose not to play in the NBA, he currently is a broadcaster for Westwood One and the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

He owns a chain of over 70 restaurants, and has two kids with his college sweetheart, Leigh Anne.

Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy

But recently, the Tuohy family was blessed with another addition to their family. And they are going to see if that blessing in their experience can reciprocate itself in other people’s lives.

And if the name sounds familiar, you probably heard of it before in passing. The Tuohy family is the adopted family of Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher.

Their story-along with Michael’s-was recently chronicled in the book, The Blind Side, and the movie with the same name. In the movie, Tim McGraw played the role of Sean and Sandra Bullock won the Best Actress Award for her portrayal of Leigh Anne.

It was Leigh Anne’s persistance that brought Oher, who at the time was basically homeless, into not only the Tuohy household, but an adopted member of the family.

“The whole thing started by my wife turning to me and telling me to turn around when we drove past Michael on the street,” Sean Tuohy told Rex Snider last week. “In a heartbeat, your life can change this quickly, and we feel like through the power and strength of cheerful giving, that it propels the giver way beyond.”

And it turned out Michael coming into their lives was more of a blessing to the Tuohy family than it was to Oher, at least to the head of the Tuohy household.

“Michael got a nice house, but he could have got that anywhere.  We as a family got to celebrate Christmas every day because we were able to give every day to someone that we loved.”

Now, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy are out promoting a book, In a Heartbeat, but this one is in their own words and right from the source.

Tuohy said that a lot of people could have lost the true message about Oher’s story by watching the movie or reading “The Blind Side”. They may see his rise to the NFL as the main focus, but the Tuohy family wanted to make it known that the true message that should be pulled from Michael’s story is the idea of generous giving and outreach.

“The smallest amount of generosity can change someone’s life. It’s about a relationship. When people talk about giving these days, its often too much centered about money. Now don’t get me wrong. Money is important, and a lot of these great organizations need it to survive. So if you’re writing checks, don’t stop cause I told you so.”

“We like to think that a life would have been changed a whole lot without a book and a movie, but now we feel the responsibility of trying to tell other people…it isn’t writing a big check. Leigh Ann puts it great. If we wrote a check for all the money we spent on Michael the last eight years, and gave it to him on that day, it wouldn’t have made a difference in his life. It’s a relationship and the caring and the love that made a difference. Michael became the person who he was supposed to come, and all we did was give him an avenue to do it.”

Tuohy challenges others to do the same, and not to do it for people who expect help or want it. Do it for complete strangers and that show of caring will be contagious.

“We don’t know the value, and we place value on people so incorrectly. And that’s what we challenge people to do. Stop, turn around, and try and change a life. You can do it. It doesn’t take a movie. Trust me.”

The Tuohys just want to use their family as an example to see how possible it is to take someone so low-and help to raise them-to a high level.

“I tell people that when we came upon Michael, he couldn’t have been any lower. And I don’t think he’s on any higher run than he is right now. And the important thing is what happens between. And its hard. Its a parental challenge every day, but we’re blessed with three great kids, and we wouldn’t change   this experience.”

What happened to Sean Tuohy and the rest of his family is what he calls “The Popcorn Theory“, in which you have a pot with kernels in it. The majority of them will pop, but when you look in the pot to see when its done, one kernel will hit you in the face.

“If a popcorn hits you in the face, don’t turn your back on it. Michael may have been the biggest popcorn ever. We confront things every day in our lives, and you’ll have one today where you’ll pass someone in the hallway and you’ll put a value on that person. I do it too. Everyone does it. And with that person, you don’t know. You don’t know if they have needs. What we tell people is if somebody or something hits you in the face like a piece of popcorn, grab it and make a difference in their lives.”

And of course the Tuohy’s made a difference on Oher. They took Oher into their home in 2004, and got him to a Division 1 school in Ole Miss, his adopted father’s school. During his four years there, he made freshmen All-American status, and All-SEC every year he lined up for the Rebels. This was capped off by a first-team All-SEC and All-American status his senior year, and he finished as an Outland Trophy finalist.

And last year, the Ravens traded up in the first round with the New England Patriots to draft Oher with the 23rd pick. The Tuohy family watched in anticipation for Oher, and they actually got a chance to properly thank Patriots owner Robert Kraft during the Ravens opening round playoff victory against New England.

“He was very nice, very generous, and of course I turned to him and said, ‘Hey, we should be thanking you’.”

He said, “Yeah, you make mistakes in this world.”

Sean said that Oher going to be the Ravens may have actually been the real blessing for Oher in return for lightening up the lives of the Tuohy family.

“We didn’t know anything about the Ravens before we got there, and we don’t get to look behind any curtains, but from the parent of a kid who plays on the team, we really do think-and that’s not by accident-that Michael’s probably at the best-maybe even all of professional sports-organizations. Our feeling that any organization that has Ozzie in it is a good one to be with.”

And despite the Ravens’ season ending last year shorter than expected, the Tuohys are still very proud of their son’s journey and his persistence and dedication to his family, his job, and his friends.

And Oher this year will return to protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside as Ravens open training camp today and veterans begin practice later this week. And to think, Leigh Anne almost didn’t want Michael Oher being athletic at all.

“My wife kept trying to talk Michael out of playing any sports, because we knew inevitably that would lead him away from the house,” Sean Tuohy laughed. “He knows what he’s doing right now is so precious, and it can be pulled away at any time.  Hes making the most of it, which we’re really proud of”

“And I think that’s one of the reasons why he’s been so successful. He realizes that he’s in a position that he doesn’t deserve to be, but he certainly is going to value where it is and because of that, he takes it very seriously. And he knows it’s his job. But he knows to us that he’s just our son, and he just happens to play football. But if he doesn’t play football, he doesn’t stop being our son.”

And as camp starts today and with the NBA taking a break for a moment, the Tuohys can concentrate on Ravens football for a time being. In fact, the whole schedule of the book had to fit in with this week because of that conflict with training camp.

“We didn’t start this book until late February. And my wife told the publisher, don’t go into this unless it can be finished July 13. And he said, ‘Why is that?’. She said ‘It gives me 15 days to get organized between the end of the book and Michael’s first practice of training camp’, so at least we still have our priorities right on our side.”

Tuohy normally does his job critiquing the Memphis Grizzlies for Westwood One and other outlets, but he right now thinks the Ravens are poised to go deep in the playoffs this year around.

“I think it’s going to be a big year for the Ravens,” he said.  “I love what they did.”

And actually even though he has been away from his broadcasting job with the Grizzlies, Sean Tuohy is eager to get back and talk with two former Maryland basketball stars about a number of topics, including the Ravens.

Those two being former Archbishop Spalding star Rudy Gay and the recently drafted Greivis Vasquez.

“He and I have more fun in the early  part of the NBA season cause we get to talk Ravens all the time,” Tuohy said of Gay, “and people look at us like we’re crazy in the middle of Memphis. He loves the Ravens now. He’ll be out at training camp every year. What a wonderful kid, and Baltimore needs to be proud of Rudy. He has embraced a wonderful job of giving back to the city of Memphis.”

And Tuohy said that Vasquez is a player that is right up their alley.

He’s a player that we needed desperately. We needed some energy. He’s done well in summer league. The speed has him a little bit, but he’ll catch up cause he’s a talented kid. I think they got a steal when they got him.”

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