Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Michael Oher is probably more well known than others who play that position in the NFL because his story was told in the 2009 movie The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock. And according to the six-year veteran, that’s been a problem for him.
On Wednesday, Oher and defensive end Kory Ealy got into a fight at the end of practice that eventually resulted in punches thrown and both players wrestling each other to the ground. Fights happen between players in practice, right? Especially during minicamps held under blazing 90-degree temperatures.
But when Oher was asked if he may have been particularly feisty because he felt the need to prove himself after disappointing performances the past two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans, the 29-year-old took issue with that premise.
“I’m not trying to prove anything,” Oher told ESPN.com’s David Newton. “People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie. They don’t really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That’s why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field.
“This stuff, calling me a bust, people saying if I can play or not … that has nothing to do with football. It’s something else off the field. That’s why I don’t like that movie.”
As you likely know, The Blind Side was based on a 2006 book by Michael Lewis. But had Oher’s story of growing up in poverty, being adopted by an affluent family and going on to play major college football never been adapted for the big screen, it’s doubtful he would be known outside of football. Even among football fans, offensive lineman typically don’t receive much attention unless they’re doing something wrong, like committing a holding penalty, missing a block or letting a pass rusher run by him.
Yet my mother knows who Oher is because of The Blind Side. Yes, she’s a football fan with general interest in the NFL. But most Sundays, she can’t watch her favorite Detroit Lions because she doesn’t live in a region where their games will be shown. So who else might she want to watch? Hey, how about that guy from the movie? Is his team playing? So if a Ravens game was on TV, she wanted to see Michael Oher. And unlike most of us who follow the ball while watching the game, my mother would stay focused on Oher.
So when Oher says that movie is “why people look at me every single play,” he’s right. He’s previously complained that his portrayal in The Blind Side also created the impression that he was “dumb” and “knew nothing about football.” And in his view, that means he’s judged unfairly compared to other offensive lineman and is under far more scrutiny than his peers who play in relative obscurity.
How many other athletes have to deal with such circumstances? (How many regular people do, for that matter?) The presumption would be that anyone would love having a popular, inspirational movie made about their life. But getting the big-screen treatment and fame that comes with it might not be as fun as it appears. Oher raises some extremely interesting points regarding how he’s perceived because of the notoriety the movie created.
Would he have been asked if he felt the need to prove himself in a minicamp if not for his higher profile? It’s certainly possible because of the tremendous attention the NFL receives, along with the need for reporters to fill a news cycle that needs constant fuel online. But it’s also plausible that Oher is the sensitive type that the book and movie depicted, and gets touchy when he perceives being treated differently from his peers.
Fortunately, he has an opportunity to channel those emotions into improved play with a new team, familiar coach and healthy body. Oher’s physical talents and previous record of success likely afforded that, rather than the fact his story was told in a Hollywood movie.