Ravens tackle Michael Oher has a new book available that went on sale Tuesday. Oher’s story, “I Beat The Odds,” discusses his life from homelessness to the book and movie “The Blindside” and of course his young football career. Below is a Q&A with Oher about his life.
Q: When did you first know you were good at football?
A: I was pretty good at most sports I tried as a kid. I just realized early on that I was gifted athletically the way some people are gifted in music or art or anything else. We used to play football in the empty lots in Hurt Village, where I lived when I was about middle-school-aged but I really started to enjoy it once I hit high school.
Q: How did high school change for you after you met the Touhys?
A: There were actually a lot of families at Briarcrest who were a big help to me before I moved in with the Tuohys permanently, and teachers who were really concerned about my progress in class – not just that I could pass tests but that I actually learned and retained the material. But once I started to live with the Tuohys full-time, there was more structure to my life. Having some predictability and routine made it easier to focus on everything else, like homework, because I didn’t have to worry about where I was going to sleep next week or if I would have lunch money for the next day. Everyone at Briarcrest was really eager to help me, but I didn’t want to have to ask them. So not having to worry about asking for help any more allowed me to relax and start enjoying my life and school and having a loving family, instead of trying to figure out the basic things of how to get from one day to the next.
Q: How do you think your experience in foster care was the same and/or different from the experience of other kids?
A: I think my foster care experience was very typical. I had good placements and bad placements. That’s the kind of gamble most foster kids are given: Maybe you’ll end up in a place that helps you grow and provides you with better support, or maybe you’ll end up with people who just view you as another monthly check. And no matter what situation you land in, you’re somewhere that isn’t your home, with people you don’t know. It’s hard to not want to get back to your own family because even if life is bad there, at least it’s familiar. It’s a scary, confusing place to be.
Q: Where are your siblings now? Do you keep in touch with them?
A: I still see my older brothers regularly. Deljuan died in a car accident while I was in college, but I am able to visit with the rest of them whenever I am in Memphis. I met my little sister Denise last year for the first time since we were kids and she was taken away to be placed in foster care. Unfortunately, I don’t get to see most of my younger siblings much. I barely know some of them.
Q: Is there a career you see yourself pursuing when you retire from football?
A: Well, I plan to stay healthy and play football for as long as I possibly can. But after that, I would really love to go into some kind of broadcasting or doing work as a commentator.
Q: How has your relationship with the Tuohys changed since the movie and you going pro?
A: I can’t say that it’s changed any more than how a relationship between any child and parent changes once they start a career. I still go home for most holidays and see them whenever they come up for one of my games (which is pretty often). Collins and S.J. come and hang out at my place in Baltimore sometimes, and that’s a lot of fun. But obviously when you’re out on your own, living in your own place and doing your own grocery shopping, you aren’t going to spend as much time together as you did when you all lived under the same roof.
Q: What athletes do you look up to?
A: Well, I have to give Michael Jordan credit for first making me think about sports as a career. I remember watching him when I was seven years old and thinking not only that he was the greatest athlete that I’d ever seen, but also that he would probably never have to worry about where his next meal was coming from. But I also like players who were fierce competitors but also really great role models – guys like Walter Payton, who everyone respected on the field for how they played and off the field for how they lived. That’s the kind of player and person I‘d like to be.
Q: You mention that there are major differences between how the movie portrays you as a person. What’s the biggest discrepancy between you, and the character that Quinton Aaron portrays?
A: Quinton did a great job in the film. I really, really enjoyed watching him give so much life to a character who, really, didn’t have that many lines. He showed emotion in his face and his body and the way he moved – it was really amazing to watch. But I have to say that those scenes where you see him having to learn the game of football, like he’d never played it before – that’s just not who I was. I know they had to write the script that way to make it good storytelling for a movie format, but I had really studied the game of football from the time I was a kid because I knew that sports were going to be my ticket to a better life.