96 pages • 3 hours readMichael Lewis
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The Blind Side tells the intersecting stories of Michael Oher (who, after the book’s timeline, went on to have a long career as an NFL left tackle) and how the NFL’s passing game evolved. Folded into these two stories is that of Tom Lemming, who became the first person to evaluate high school football players both independently and on a national scale. His player evaluations impacted college recruiting, shifting it from a regional to a national focus. This change enabled an under-the-radar player like Oher, who played for a small Evangelical Christian high school, to be noticed.
Lewis begins the book by describing the 1985 play that ended the career of Washing Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann: New York Giants defender Lawrence Taylor sacked Theismann, breaking his leg in two places. Theismann’s regular left tackle was on the sidelines with an injury for that game, and the result was costly both for Theismann and the Redskins.
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The fast, aggressive play of Taylor, and defensive players who followed in his footsteps, transformed passing strategy and created the need for a left tackle with a unique physique and skill set. It took several years for talent evaluators to define these qualities and recognize the importance of left tackles, but by the 2000s, when Oher came on the scene, their value was well understood. Oher, in turn, became one of the most sought-after draft prospects.
Lewis weaves back and forth through time to tell Michael’s story. Lewis introduces Michael when he is 15 years old and temporarily staying with Tony (“Big Tony”) Henderson. Like Michael, Big Tony grew up in Hurt Village, one of Memphis, Tennessee’s most notorious housing projects. To fulfill his mother’s last wish, Big Tony takes his son to a Christian Evangelical school, Briarcrest, and brings Michael with him. Michael’s athletic abilities impress the school’s coaches. He becomes a student at the school, where he meets Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, wealthy white Evangelical Christians whose children also attend Briarcrest. Leigh Anne grows close with Michael, and Michael moves in with the Tuohys. Michael slowly assimilates into the school environment, making friends and growing especially close the Tuohys’ children, Collins and Sean Junior. The Tuohys hire a tutor for Michael to ensure he maintains the grades he needs to play sports, and Leigh Anne educates him in the ways of white, upper-class Memphis.
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After football scout Lemming brings Michael to national attention, Michael is heavily recruited by almost all of the top college programs. Michael chooses to play at the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”), the Tuohys’ alma mater. The NCAA receives a complaint that the Tuohys compensated Michael with gifts to convince him to play at Old Miss and opens an investigation into the Tuohys’ motives. Michael is eventually cleared to play at the school, and the Tuohys ensure he will meet NCAA academic eligibility requirements. Michael plays as a freshman, which raises his profile with NFL recruiters. Though the Ole Miss team he plays on is not successful, Michael’s individual play impresses, and he receives accolades and awards.
At the end of a successful season for Michael, a teammate confronts him, making a lewd reference to Leigh Anne and her daughter, Collins, and Michael beats him up. When he realizes he accidentally injured a young child in the vicinity, he flees the scene. Lewis shifts focus to Michael’s mother, showing how she fell victim to a cycle of poverty and drugs. Shortly before Michael turned eight, Children’s Services removed him from her care and placed him in a foster home. He ran away three times, eventually ending up in a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. After he ran away from the hospital, authorities gave up looking for him. For the next five years, he was in and out of school for long stretches, though school authorities continued to pass him from grade to grade. His family was homeless for a time, and Michael camped out in the homes of a string of friends, including Big Tony. Lewis then returns to the moment where The Blind Side begins: with Michael arriving at Briarcrest. Lewis discusses Michael’s early challenges at the school, relating to the students and adapting to the school culture.
The final chapter returns to the day Michael ran away from the scene where he got in a fight with a teammate. Sean communicates with him by text while consulting with his various contacts at Ole Miss and devising a plan to keep the story low profile. Michael returns, and the situation is resolved with no lasting impact on Michael’s character or player profile. Lewis notes that Michael’s support network helped to ensure that the incident remained under the radar.
At the end of the book, applications from inner-city high school athletes flood Briarcrest, but the school is ambivalent about accepting students who are not academically prepared for the school’s curriculum. Sean offers to pay for tutoring, and Leigh Anne wants to start a foundation to help other athletes. Michael plays well in college, continuing to draw honors and attention.
By Michael Lewis