Michael Oher, offensive lineman for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, won hearts as the subject of the The Blind Side, the New York Times bestselling book by Michael Lewis and the film for which Sandra Bullock snagged a best-actress Oscar last year.
Growing up in the projects in Memphis, Oher and his siblings were taken away from their drug-addicted mother and placed in a series of foster homes. But Oher was determined to rise above his surroundings. In I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to the Blind Side and Beyond, the athlete picks up where The Blind Side left off, thanking the educators and foster parents who offered him rides, couches and tutoring on his way to the NFL. Here, Oher shares what other foster kids can learn from his story.
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Which parts of your life did The Blind Side get wrong?
The biggest thing was that the movie showed me having to learn how to play football. When I saw that I was like, “What? That’s crazy!” Because I definitely knew how to play football before I got to Briarcrest. I had been watching the game on TV and playing it with neighbor kids since I was little…
Also, some people got the idea from reading the book that I was dumb because of how I struggled when I started school at Briarcrest. That bothered me because if you ask any of my teachers or [my tutor] Miss Sue, they’ll tell you that I was just missing some of the tools to know how to learn, if that makes sense, after years of getting shuffled around city schools and not having a good home life to help keep me on track with attendance and homework.
Once those fundamentals were in place, I absolutely loved school and learned everything as quickly as I could. I mean, I even made the dean’s list at Ole Miss twice, and I am so proud of that because I think a lot of people only saw where I started out and not where I ended up.
In researching your book, you were reunited with the social worker who took you away from your family. What do you think of her now?
It’s funny because I used to think that she was a bounty hunter. I was scared to death of her! But when I met her in July, I realized that she is actually a tiny, pretty lady and she is really nice, too. I realize now that she was doing her best to help my brothers and sisters and me have a shot at a normal life.
What would you change about the foster care system if you could?
I just wish there wasn’t a need for it at all. I wish that parents would step up and recognize their responsibilities and stop making selfish or dangerous decisions that put their kids in a position to be taken away in the first place.
Do you still keep in touch with your brothers and sisters?
I still see my big brothers whenever I come to Memphis. Some of the younger ones I haven’t been able to stay in as close of touch with because they were taken in by other families and some are still under 18. My oldest brother, Marcus, was with me on draft day.
What advice do you have for kids who are homeless or living in foster homes?
Don’t give up on your dreams. You are better than your circumstances, so don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something just because of where you came from. If you are willing to tough it out and make good choices even when they aren’t as fun or cool, you will make it. You just have to stay strong and not let the pressures and stresses break you down.
Would you ever consider adopting a child or becoming a foster parent?
That will all depend on what my wife wants to do. I want to make sure that I am married and have a stable home before I start making any decisions about a family. But I know that when I do have a family—biological or adopted or foster—I will be there for them so that they always know they are loved, cared for and never, ever feel alone.
I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to the Blind Side and Beyond
Michael Oher with Don Yaeger
Gotham / Feb. 8, 2011 / 9781592406128 / $26.00