Leigh Anne Tuohy and her family became famous after the book and movie, “The Blind Side,” shared the story of how she and her husband, Sean, adopted Michael Oher, a teenager moving in and out of the foster care system. The Tuohys took Oher in, helped him get the education he needed, and encouraged his love of football. After college, Oher was the first round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2009.
Oher was a member of the Super Bowl winning 2013 Ravens team, and now heads to his second Super Bowl with the Carolina Panthers this weekend, with his proud family in tow.
Tuohy sat down with TODAY.com’s Terri Peters to catch the world up on what her family has been up to since the 2009 film. The author and public speaker shares parenting advice, her thoughts on the film, and her plans for watching Super Bowl 50. (Her comments were shortened for space and clarity.)
What have you and your family been up to since “The Blind Side?”
TUOHY: It has been an amazing journey. Literally not one part of it was anticipated. Since the book and movie came out, Sean and I have written our own book, I’ve written books, and we spend most of our time on the road doing motivational speaking.
We are big proponents of the saying, “to whom much is given, much is required,” so we try to give back as much as we can. Some people have opinions about how we do it, but those opinions have never mattered to me. We have to get up in the morning and do what’s right, and if that offends people then they’re just going to have to be offended. There are amazing people in this world that just need an opportunity. Those people are what our family is all about, and all three of our kids are great stewards of that message.
S.J. is 22 now, and plays basketball for Loyola University in Maryland. We watered and fed the little squirt and he grew up. He’s my smart kid — Momma’s very excited about this child that I haven’t had to spoon feed like Collins and Michael. I was very much a helicopter mom with those two, but haven’t needed to be with S.J.
Collins is 29, and she’s the little queen — my boys spoil her rotten. Believe it or not — with a mother who doesn’t cook at all — Collins owns a boutique gourmet cookie company called Whimsy that is wildly successful. The cookies are to die for, and the Panthers get cookies three times a week in their locker room. Cam Newton gets his own box every week, and he takes great offense if anyone so much as looks at his cookies. Collins is getting married in April to a great guy who we just love to death. I’ve told her I’m way more excited about the Super Bowl than her wedding, and that she’s not allowed to ask me any more questions about the wedding until the Super Bowl is over.
And you know where Michael is, of course — headed to San Francisco!
Speaking of Michael, I’ve seen a lot of media reports saying he does not like the movie — is that true? And, do you like it?
TUOHY: Michael does like the movie. I think what happened was one time, Michael played a great game, and the first thing the reporter asked him after was about the movie. So Michael said, “Don’t ask me about the movie. I don’t like the movie.”
The truth of the matter is that he does not dislike the movie — he dislikes the attention that it draws to him. Most people in the country can’t name an offensive lineman, period, and that’s good. They’re supposed to be the unsung heroes, the guys behind the scene.
Unfortunately for Michael, he’s very recognizable. If there is a football game going on, referees watch him because of the movie — he gets watched more closely, which leads to questions about what he did or did not do right. He gets dissected a little more than any other lineman.
It’s made him decide to step his game up and do everything right. As a parent, that’s what we told our kids anyway — do the right thing and you don’t get in trouble. If you lead a charmed life, you better act like it.
So, Michael understands that the movie sends a good message, and that far outweighs the fact that he gets watched closely in football. I told him, “Look, honey, you’re going to have to get over it.”
It’s a great movie. We were really pleased. The fact of the matter is, everyone has a story and ours just happens to be the one that was told. When people see this movie, they realize there are other Michael Ohers out there who can make something of their lives if someone just turns around and asks how they can help.
Everyone refers to you as, “The Blind Side Mom,” but as a mother, does that make you feel stuck in a single role? What else do you hope to be known for?
TUOHY: Making people realize that families do not have to match — that you don’t have to look like someone to love them. If I’m not known for anything else in this whole world, I want people to know this — if there’s not someone in your social circle who doesn’t look like you, then shame on you.
In this world we live in, racism is alive and well in all venues. We immediately categorize people, and that’s just not right. As a country, we have to stop judging people. I love Michael Oher as much as I love my two biological children. There’s no difference in them.
I’d like to be known for stepping up, and encouraging others to do the same.
The message of your latest book, “Turn Around,” is about just that — stepping up and giving cheerfully of your time and resources to help others. What advice do you give to people who want to do more of those things?
TUOHY: I am continually bombarded with questions about just this. People want to know how they can get involved, how they can make a difference, what they can do, and I wanted the book to inspire people to just do something.
I want to see a revolution of kindness, because what happens is, when you’re kind and you give, it’s infectious. You give one time, and it’s a great feeling and you want to do it again and again.
Even if you do one kind thing a week — that’s progression, that’s moving the needle. It’s all about starting with you and making a ripple effect. Start on your street, then your neighborhood, then your city.
We need people to get involved and make a difference. Money is not going to change it — it’s about people. It’s about us realizing that everyone has value and about being nice to the guy next to you.
So, what advice would you give to the parents out there, wondering how they raise their own little Super Bowl player or entrepreneur? How did you raise three successful, compassionate kids?
TUOHY: We believe that when you lead a charmed life — meaning that you have two parents, you have a roof over your head, you get to go to school and you get three meals a day — you need to act like it, cherish it, and value it.
To help them live up to that belief, there were rules to be followed. You make good grades, you don’t have a curfew. You don’t get a speeding ticket or drink and drive, you get to use a car. It’s not hard — but you do have to parent.
Look at their cell phone; know their friends — because when you stop knowing your kids’ business and who they’re hanging out with, you have stopped parenting. If you don’t parent, then don’t cry about who your kid is becoming.
It’s about investing time in your kids, just like you invest time in all the other important things in your life.
I also have to know, where are you watching the Super Bowl?
TUOHY: On the field! We are headed west — here we come, Cali! The whole family will be out there on the field, and we’re super excited.
It’s such a great journey to Super Bowl week. It’s fun and there’s a lot going on that we’re really excited about. We feel very blessed and very fortunate.
I’m going to put my bling jersey on, and be the proudest, most obnoxious momma that I can possibly be, and enjoy every moment of it.
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