The Blind Side

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the W. W. Norton & Company edition of The Blind Side published in 2007.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Four other players, including, oddly, the Redskins’ John Riggins, pile on. They’re good for dramatic effect but practically irrelevant. The damage is done by Taylor alone. One hundred and ninety-six pounds of quarterback come to rest beneath a thousand or so pounds of other things. Then Lawrence Taylor pops to his feet and begins to scream and wave and clutch his helmet with both hands, as if in agony.

Related Characters: Joe Theismann, Lawrence Taylor
Related Symbols: Joe Theismann’s Injury
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of The Blind Side, Lawrence Taylor, a talented pass rusher for the New York Giants, sacks legendary quarterback Joe Theismann (i.e., tackles Theismann before he can pass the ball). Taylor’s sack on Theismann has become one of the most famous—and infamous—moments in NFL history, since Taylor broke Theismann’s leg and ended his NFL career for good.

As the chapter goes on to show, Taylor’s sacking of Theismann proved influential because it made football insiders realize the enormous importance of the left tackle position. Previously, many football coaches and fans had thought of offensive linemen as interchangeable—but after Theismann, it became clear that some linemen were far more important than others. The left tackle has one of the most difficult jobs in football: protecting the quarterback from rushers like Lawrence Taylor. The discussion of the renewed emphasis on good left tackles in the eighties and nineties is important because it shows how NFL history paved the way for Michael Oher. Had it not been for Taylor’s sack of Theismann, there may never have been such a big demand for good left tackles, and Michael Oher may never have made it to the NFL.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

In the early 1980s, the notion that a single lineman should be paid much more than any other—and more than star running backs, wide receivers, and, in several cases, quarterbacks—would have been considered heretical had it not been so absurd. The offensive line never abandoned, at least in public, its old, vaguely socialistic ideology. All for one, one for all, as to do our jobs well we must work together, and thus no one of us is especially important.

Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Two, we learn about the gradual conceptual shift that occurred in the NFL during the 1980s and 1990s. For many decades, football fans and coaches had considered offensive linemen to be equally important—the unsung heroes of football, who worked together to protect the quarterback and the running back. This way of thinking of linemen was both a reflection and a consequence of the fact that linemen tended to be paid the same amount. In the 1980s, however, NFL teams began to pay certain men far more than others—left tackles became especially well-paid, because they had the important job of protecting the quarterback’s “blind side.”

The passage is important because it shows how important conventional wisdom can be in football. In retrospect, it seems obvious that some linemen are more important than others, and therefore that some linemen should be paid more than others. Why, then, did it take so long for NFL coaches to see the truth? In part, the passage implies, because ideology and tradition play an important role in shaping football strategy. The idea that all linemen are equal was so entrenched in football that coaches only seriously began to question it in the late 80s.

Chapter 3 Quotes

His name was Michael Oher, but everyone just called him “Big Mike.” Tony liked Big Mike, but he also could see that Big Mike was heading at warp speed toward a bad end. He’d just finished the ninth grade at a public school, but Tony very much doubted he’d be returning for the tenth. He seldom attended classes, and showed no talent or interest in school. “Big Mike was going to drop out,” said Big Tony. “And if he dropped out, he’d be like all his friends who dropped out: dead, in jail, or on the street selling drugs, just waiting to be dead or in jail.”

Related Characters: Tony Henderson / Big Tony (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Three, we’re introduced to Michael Oher, the protagonist of the book. Michael is a young teenager, living in the impoverished inner-city of Memphis, Tennessee. Although Michael doesn’t spend much time with his biological parents (and, in fact, has never met his biological father), a man named Big Tony takes care of him sometimes, largely out of concern that, without the right influences, Michael will end up involved in selling drugs or other criminal activities to which many people turn as a way of surviving.

The passage is important not only because it paints a bleak picture of life in American inner-cities (where crime and drug selling are often the only realistic way for young people to make a good living for themselves), but because it’s one of the only passages about Big Tony, the man who arranges for Michael Oher to attend Briarcrest Christian Academy, setting in motion the events of the book. The Blind Side—both the book and the Hollywood film adaptation—has been criticized for perpetuating the “white savior complex,” the trope in which heroic white characters (in this case, the Tuohy family) reach out to help a struggling non-white character (here, Michael Oher), when, so the argument goes, there should be more books and films about non-white people taking care of themselves, helping one another, and solving their own problems. The fact that Big Tony, in spite of his importance to Michael Oher’s success in life, plays a minimal role in the book could be interpreted as evidence for the white savior complex in The Blind Side—the book marginalizes the help that inner-city people give each other, and instead focuses on the help that wealthy white people give to black inner-city youths.

But Mr. Simpson was new to the school, and this great football coach, Hugh Freeze, had phoned Simpson’s boss, the school president, a football fan, and made his pitch: This wasn’t a thing you did for the Briarcrest football team, Freeze had said, this was a thing you did because it was right! Briarcrest was this kid’s last chance! The president in turn had phoned Simpson and told him that if he felt right with it, he could admit the boy.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, Steve Simpson, Hugh Freeze
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Three, we start to get a sense for the enormous importance of football in America, particularly in a Southern state like Tennessee. Millions of Americans watch football every week, and consider football an important part of their lives. Football is more than just entertainment on television: it represents a way for communities to celebrate themselves. For example, one could argue that when two high schools play a game of football with one another, they’re each fighting for their school’s honor and reputation.

Because football is so important in Memphis, Tennessee, it influences seemingly unrelated aspects of life, such as the educational system. Ordinarily, Michael Oher would have little to no chance of attending a school like Briarcrest, partly because he’s black and Briarcrest is a de facto white school, and partly because his grades and IQ scores are poor. However, Briarcrest admits Michael in large part because the school president loves football and wants Michael to play for the Briarcrest team.

By the time [Sean] met Big Mike, he had a new unofficial title: Life Guidance counselor to whatever black athlete stumbled into the Briarcrest Christian School. The black kids reminded him, in a funny way, of himself.

Sean knew what it meant to be the poor kid in a private school, because he’d been one himself.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, Sean Tuohy
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

Sean Tuohy is the first person in the Tuohy family to take notice of Michael Oher, and in this passage, we begin to get a sense for why. Tuohy notices that Michael Oher is lonely, and has little in common with his Briarcrest peers—most of the students at Briarcrest, an elite private school, are white and come from wealthy families. Tuohy sympathizes with the feeling of being an outsider in a rich community, because he grew up very poor, and was almost always the poorest kid in his school. Even at the University of Mississippi, where Tuohy played basketball, Tuohy felt like an outsider because he could only afford to attend school on a sports scholarship, meaning that playing basketball was essentially a job for him, not a fun activity. In all, Tuohy is sympathetic to young people who are poorer than their peers, and who feel like outsiders. In the city of Memphis, where there is an enormous (and morally disgraceful) gap between the average wealth of white and black people, and where black people are often treated like second-class citizens, this in effect means that Tuohy is especially sympathetic to black people. Sean’s sense of a personal connection with Michael Oher thus leads him to befriend Michael, pay for his lunches, and, eventually, adopt Michael as his own son.

By the time Michael Oher arrived at Briarcrest, Leigh Anne Tuohy didn’t see anything odd or even awkward in taking him in hand. This boy was new; he had no clothes; he had no warm place to stay over Thanksgiving Break. For Lord’s sake, he was walking to school in the snow in shorts, when school was out of session, on the off-chance he could get into the gym and keep warm. Of course she took him out and bought him some clothes. It struck others as perhaps a bit aggressively philanthropic; for Leigh Anne, clothing a child was just what you did if you had the resources. She had done this sort of thing before, and would do it again. “God gives people money to see how you’re going to handle it,” she said. And she intended to prove she knew how to handle it.

Related Characters: Leigh Anne Tuohy (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Leigh Anne helps Michael Oher to a degree that many other people would find strange. After seeing that he’s an impoverished, lonely student, Leigh Anne buys Michael clothes and food, and gives him far more love and attention than he’s used to receiving.

A natural question would be, why does Leigh Anne treat Michael so kindly? But in a way, the passage suggests that this is the wrong question—in the sense that it would be wrong to second-guess Leigh Anne’s generosity. Leigh Anne’s peers think that she’s too “aggressively philanthropic,” and later on in the book, the NCAA accuses Leigh Anne of being nice to Michael to ensure that he’d play football for her alma mater. Furthermore, readers of The Blind Side have accused the Tuohys of being condescending toward Michael. While there might be some truth in such an accusation, perhaps it’s not right to immediately assume the worst of Leigh Anne Tuohy. Leigh Anne seems to be a sincere, pious woman, who thinks that, as a prosperous person, it’s her duty to spend her time and money helping others. The better question, indeed, might be why more wealthy people don’t use their money to help those who are less fortunate, particularly as both wealth and poverty are often a matter of luck rather than merit.

Chapter 4 Quotes

They called him names that neither he nor his coach cared to repeat. Harrington wasn’t shocked by more subtle forms of racism away from the basketball court, but it had been a long time since he’d seen the overt version on it. “I don't think there’s a white coach with a black kid on his team, or a black coach with a white kid, who could have any racism in him,” he said. Big Mike responded badly; Harrington hadn’t seen this side of him. He began to throw elbows. Then he stopped on the court, turned on the fans, and gave them the finger.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, John Harrington
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Michael Oher is playing a game of basketball on the Briarcrest team against another high school. During the game, people from the other school call Michael offensive names, including the n-word. In response, Michael becomes much more aggressive on the court, and leads his team to a sweeping victory.

The passage is an important reminder of the racism that black youths like Michael Oher face, both on and off the court—and this won’t be the first time that Michael is belittled for his race. Second, the passage suggests that Michael, in spite of his gentle nature, is capable of becoming more aggressive during sports games. Instead of being humiliated by the audience’s cruelty, Michael adapts to his surroundings and finds a way to use their cruelty to motivate himself to succeed.

Of course, it’s also worth noting how tone-deaf Harrington sounds in his quotation—both in assuming that a black coach’s “racism” against a white player could be equal to a white coach’s racism against a black player, and in thinking that the world of sports is somehow divorced from the racial prejudices of the outside world.

One afternoon the Briarcrest players and coaches looked up and saw the strange sight of Tennessee’s most famous coach, Phil Fulmer, from the University of Tennessee, not walking but running to their practice. If ever there was a body not designed to move at speed it was Fulmer’s.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, Phil Fulmer
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

By the end of Chapter Four, it’s become obvious that Michael Oher is an extraordinary football player—so extraordinary, in fact, that football coaches from Division I colleges travel across the country to watch him practice. Even Phil Fulmer, the most acclaimed coach in the state, goes out of his way to watch Michael, actually running to his practice.

The passage is humorous in its characterization of Fulmer, but also inspiring because it shows how Michael has gone from a lonely young man, who most people in Memphis would ignore or avoid, to an acclaimed athlete, who people travel across the country to watch. The passage is also significant because it foreshadows the long college recruitment process, during which Phil Fulmer, among many other college coaches, will visit Michael and try to convince him to play for their programs.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Eventually people must have noticed. As Walsh performed miracle after miracle with his quarterbacks, a more general trend emerged in NFL strategy: away from the run and toward the pass. In 1978, NFL teams passed 42 percent of the time and ran the ball 58 percent of the time. Each year, right through until the mid-1980s, they passed more and ran less until the ratios were almost exactly reversed: in 1995, NFL teams passed 59 percent of the time and ran 41 percent of the time. It's not hard to see why; the passing game was improving, and the running game was stagnant.

Related Characters: Bill Walsh
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

The Blind Side alternates between chapters about the life of Michael Oher and chapters about the overall changes in the NFL in the decades leading up to Michael’s career. In Chapter Five, we learn about Bill Walsh, an extraordinary coach who almost single-handedly transformed the game by emphasizing the importance of passing the ball, rather than running with it. In order to ensure that his players passed more effectively, Walsh developed some elaborate, strategic plays that maximized his players’ potential and made them virtually unbeatable for much of the 1980s.

The passage is important to the book’s themes because it shows why big left tackles like Michael Oher suddenly became so crucial to the sport of football. As passing the ball became increasingly important, it became equally important to protect the quarterback from sacks, ensuring that he could throw the ball safely. Therefore, Bill Walsh’s inventive football strategies paved the way for Michael Oher’s stunning career.

Chapter 6 Quotes

From his place on the sideline Sean watched in amazement. Hugh had called a running play around the right end, away from Michael’s side. Michael’s job was simply to take the kid who had been jabbering at him and wall him off. Just keep him away from the ball carrier. Instead, he’d fired off the line of scrimmage and gotten fit. Once he had his hands inside the Munford player’s shoulder pads, he lifted him off the ground. It was a perfectly legal block, with unusual consequences. He drove the Munford player straight down the field for 15 yards, then took a hard left, toward the Munford sidelines.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, Sean Tuohy, Hugh Freeze
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Six, Michael Oher plays in a football game against another high school. One of the opposing players is an annoying, bullying teenager, and during a play, Michael simply carries the bully across the field, pushing him all the way back to the sidelines and even over the opposing team’s bench.

The incident with the bully is indicative of both Michael Oher’s dominance in the sport of football, and his overall temperament. Michael is clearly a gifted athlete—he’s so big and strong that he can face off against a heavy football player and essentially lift him all the way down the field. Michael is a gentle, kindhearted young man, but during football games he’s capable of channeling his anger and frustration into some impressive plays, like the one discussed in the passage.

She’d been taking care of his material needs for a good year and a half, and his emotional ones, to the extent he wanted them taken care of, for almost as long. “I love him as if I birthed him,” she said. About the hundredth time someone asked her how she handled his sexual urges, Leigh Anne snapped. “You just need to mind your own business. You worry about your life and I’ll worry about mine,” she’d said. Word must have gotten around because after that no one asked.

Related Characters: Leigh Anne Tuohy (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Leigh Anne plays an increasingly important role in Michael Oher’s life: where before she bought him food and clothing, she now provides him with a home and round-the-clock love and support. However, instead of praising Leigh Anne for her extraordinary generosity, some of Leigh Anne’s friends question the new living situation. They wonder how Leigh Anne can trust Michael Oher around her beautiful teenaged daughter, Collins.

It’s easy to detect a racist side to Leigh Anne’s friends’ question: their confusion seems to reflect the racist trope of the aggressive, hyper-sexual black male. Leigh Anne’s response to her friends’ queries is simply that they should mind their own business instead of meddling in her own. Leigh Anne’s response shows that she respects and trusts Michael, and never believes him to be anything other than a kind, gentle young man.

Chapter 7 Quotes

With that, Sean Junior took off on a surprisingly insistent rap. He explained how important it was for him to be near Michael, and how concerned he was that once Michael committed himself to some big-time college football program, he’d become totally inaccessible. Then came the question: if Michael Oher agreed to play football for Ole Miss, what level of access would be granted to his little brother?

“How about we get you an all-access pass?” said the Ole Miss recruiter.

“That'd be good.”

Related Characters: Sean Tuohy Junior (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Seven, Michael begins the lengthy process of being wooed by various Division I colleges. Michael is one of the best football players in Tennessee, if not the country, and Division I schools want him to play football for their teams, bringing honor (and money!) to the program.

In order to stand the best chance of recruiting Michael, savvy football coaches and college recruiters go out of their ways to flatter him. The University of Mississippi recruiter further tries to impress Michael by currying favor with Michael’s beloved little brother, Sean Junior, promising him that he’ll be given a luxurious all-access pass to the University of Mississippi facilities. The lengths to which different coaches and recruiters will go for Michael’s sake illustrate not only Michael’s talents as an athlete, but the central importance of football for many colleges. Football is an important part of campus life at many schools and, quite frankly, a huge source of revenue.

Leigh Anne Tuohy was trying to do for one boy what economists had been trying to do, with little success, for less developed countries for the last fifty years. Kick him out of one growth path and onto another. Jump-start him. She had already satisfied his most basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and health care. He had pouted for three days after she had taken him to get the vaccines he should have had as a child. It was amazing he hadn’t already died some nineteenth-century death from, say, the mumps. (When she tried to get him a flu shot the second year in a row, he said, “You white people are obsessed with that flu shot. You don’t need one every year.”) Now she was moving on to what she interpreted as his cultural deficiencies.

Related Characters: Michael Oher (speaker), Leigh Anne Tuohy
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

In this ambiguous passage, we learn about how Leigh Anne tries to educate Michael Oher and help him become a mature adult. Leigh Anne believes that it’s her responsibility to help Michael transcend his impoverished background, both by providing for all his material needs, and by helping him learn how to appreciate the finer things in life. As we learn in the rest of the chapter, Leigh Anne takes Michael to nice restaurants and teaches him how to order food and read a wine list. She also takes him to fancy stores and buys him beautiful suits. Michael Lewis compares Leigh Anne’s actions to those of an economist who tries to help a third world country develop into a thriving industrialized nation: both by giving the nation basic material help (providing food and other necessities) and by giving the nation a strong culture.

The passage is exemplary of much that is admirable about Leigh Anne’s approach: her goal is nothing less than to help Michael Oher grow into a mature, respectable adult. However, when it comes to Michael’s “cultural deficiencies,” it could be argued that Leigh Anne is drawing Michael even further away from the realities of the average American’s life than Michael was when he lived an impoverished life in the inner-city. Similarly, one could argue that Leigh Anne isn’t really helping Michael become an independent adult at all—she’s just spoiling him and perpetuating his dependence on her.

Leigh Anne listened to the doctors discuss how bizarrely lucky Sean Junior had been in his collision with the airbag. Then she went back home and relayed the conversation to Michael, who held out his arm. An ugly burn mark ran right down the fearsome length of it. “I stopped it,” he said.

Related Characters: Michael Oher (speaker), Leigh Anne Tuohy, Sean Tuohy Junior
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

In this touching passage, Michael Oher has been in a car accident with Sean Junior, and Sean Junior is covered in blood. It ultimately becomes clear that Sean Junior is fine—although he’s bleeding, he didn’t break any bones or even lose teeth. Indeed, the doctors are surprised that Sean Junior is basically unharmed. Only afterwards does Leigh Anne discover what happened: the reason that Sean Junior wasn’t hurt more seriously is that Michael reached out his hand to protect Sean Junior from the force of the air bag.

Michael Oher is an extraordinarily kind, gentle person, and he feels an instinctive need to protect the people he cares about, even if doing so means hurting himself. Michael’s protective instincts also come in handy during football games: the same instinct that leads him to reach out his hand to protect Sean Junior also helps him to excel at protecting the quarterback during football plays.

Then he looked around, as if soaking in every last detail of the Olde English and Country French furnishings, and said, “What a lovely home. I just love those window treatments.” I just love those window treatments. He didn't say, “I just love the way you put together the Windsor valances with the draw drapes,” but he might as well have. Right then Leigh Anne decided that if Nick Saban wasn't the most polished and charming football coach in America, she was ready to marry whoever was.

Related Characters: Nick Saban (speaker), Leigh Anne Tuohy
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Nick Saban, the suave, debonair coach for LSU, visits the Tuohy household in order to convince Michael to play football at LSU. Saban is wearing a beautiful Armani suit, and makes a big show of complimenting Leigh Anne’s decorations, knowing that she takes great pride in such matters. In short, Saban has done his homework: he knows exactly what he’s supposed to say to impress the Tuohys and convince Michael to choose LSU.

The passage reminds us of the enormous importance of football to schools like LSU. LSU needs a good football team to generate money and acclaim for itself (at Division I schools like LSU, alumni donations have been shown to correlate very closely with sports success). That’s why it sends a charmer like Saban across the country to impress Michael—and that’s why dozens of other colleges try to do the same thing. However, there’s something disingenuous about Saban’s performance for Michael and the Tuohys. Saban is only trying to charm Michael because he wants Michael’s talent, not because he has any particular respect for Michael as a person. As Michael discovers during his time in college, talented athletes are superficially treated well, but beneath the surface, they’re seen as means to an end—namely, winning games and earning money for the school. In all, Saban’s behavior in this passage foreshadows some of ideas about football as an industry that become important to the book after Michael goes to college.

Chapter 9 Quotes

No one ever mentions Steve Wallace’s name. The cameras never once find him. His work is evidently too boring to watch for long without being distracted by whatever’s happening to the football. Worse, the better he does his job, the more boring to watch he becomes. His job is to eliminate what people pay to see—the sight of Chris Doleman crushing Joe Montana.

Related Characters: Chris Doleman, Joe Montana, Steve Wallace
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Nine, we’re introduced a relatively obscure NFL player named Steve Wallace. Steve Wallace is one of the most important players in NFL history, even if few fans remember him well: he was the first left tackle (and the first offensive lineman) to command a ten million-dollar salary. Steve Wallace began to attract more attention from coaches and managers after he succeeded in protecting his quarterback, Joe Montana, from being sacked by an especially formidable opposing player, Chris Doleman.

The passage addresses the paradox of being a good left tackle: the better at your job you are, the less attention fans give you. Traditionally, fans ignore the contributions of the left tackle, because these contributions don’t involve passing, catching, or running with the ball. At their best, left tackles are invisible. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that Michael Oher is so quiet and modest, in spite of his immense athletic talent—as a great left tackle, his job consists of anonymously helping the quarterback succeed.

In 1995, Steve Wallace of the San Francisco 49ers became the first offensive lineman to sign a contract worth $10 million. The quarterback might still get all the glory. But the guy who watched his back would be moving into a bigger house.

Related Characters: Steve Wallace
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:

As Chapter Nine goes on, we learn that Steve Wallace achieved fortune, if not fame, after he signed a big contract to play left tackle with the San Francisco 49ers. Even if, as we saw in the previous quote, fans often ignore the contributions of the left tackle, football insiders are well aware of the left-tackle’s vital importance. Left tackles are crucial components of any successful football team: without them, the quarterback wouldn’t have that extra split-second in which to decide where to throw the ball for maximum effectiveness. It’s because football teams gradually became aware of the importance of left tackles in the 1980s and 1990s that Steve Wallace was able to sign such a lucrative contract.

It was probably true that the NFL couldn’t lengthen the arms or stretch the torsos of fully-grown men. On the other hand, they could wave millions of dollars in the air and let the American population know that the incentives had changed. Boys who thought they might make careers as power forwards, or shot putters, might now think twice before quitting the high school football team. Huge sums of money were there for the taking, so long as you met certain physical specifications.

Page Number: 257
Explanation and Analysis:

In this interesting section, Lewis considers the effect that the rise of the left tackle’s importance has had on young, ambitious football players. There are hundreds of thousands of Americans who play football with varying degrees of seriousness in grade school, middle school, and high school. Most of these people burn out or find other activities in which to interest themselves—often because they don’t have the physique to become great football players. However, with the rise of the left tackle in the 1980s and 1990s, the NFL began to recognize the importance of a new kind of athlete, and, by the same token, a new body type: big-hipped, wide below the waist, and tall. In effect, Lewis argues, the NFL encouraged certain young football players who would otherwise have give up to continue playing football—and it’s likely that at least a few such players have gone on to play in the NFL. Perhaps if the NFL hadn’t started to place so much stock in the left tackle’s body-type, then Michael Oher would never have played professionally.

Chapter 10 Quotes

A big part of the tutor’s job was to steer the players away from the professors and courses most likely to lead to lack of performance. The majority of the football team wound up majoring in “Criminal Justice.” What Criminal Justice had going for it was that it didn't require any math or language skills. Criminal Justice classes were also almost always filled with other football players.

Page Number: 265
Explanation and Analysis:

After Michael Oher goes off to college at the University of Mississippi, he’s put in a strange position: on paper, he’s a college student, but in reality, he’s at Ole Miss for one reason—to play football. The Ole Miss football program devotes tremendous resources to ensure that its athletes give their undivided attention to the sport. They hire expensive tutors to help the athletes learn the material from their courses as quickly as possible; furthermore, the passage implies, another part of the tutors’ job is to pressure the athletes to major in relatively easy subjects like “Criminal Law.” Ironically enough, the Ole Miss football tutors—whose job, one would think, is to help the athletes learn—are mostly paid to encourage the athletes to learn as little as possible and choose an easy major, so that they can focus on football.

The passage paints a cynical picture of college athletic life. College athletes are treated like princes, especially at a place like Ole Miss, where athletics is a huge moneymaker and a big part of campus life. However, athletes’ elite status can’t disguise the fundamental disrespect with which the Ole Miss administration regards its athletes. Ole Miss doesn’t respect football players as human beings—rather, it treats them as means to the end of raising money and prestige. Outrageously, Ole Miss makes little effort to give its athletes a worthwhile education—and in many ways it does just the opposite. In effect, this means that Ole Miss is cheating its athletic students of the education they deserve—suggesting that, if its athletes don’t get a lucrative professional sports job, they have no way of providing for themselves after college.

The circumstances were that the Ole Miss football team, like the Mississippi State football team, consisted mostly of poor black kids from Mississippi. When the Ole Miss defense gathered in a single room, the only white people were coaches. On the football field the players became honorary white people, but off it they were still black, and unnatural combatants in Mississippi's white internecine war.

Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

At the University of Mississippi Michael Oher certainly doesn’t escape the racism and discrimination he’s faced for his entire life. The University of Mississippi has a long history of racial prejudice—indeed, when the first black student enrolled at the university during the Civil Rights era, students and locals rioted on campus. To this day, there is a strong racial tension on campus. One side effect of this racial tension is that even elite black students, such as athletes, are only treated with respect in some situations. As the passage suggests, black athletes are still ridiculed or just ignored when they’re off the field. As important as black football players may be to their school, their classmates sometimes treat them with condescension or outright racism, and even on the field they may be merely fetishized or objectified by fans.

Michael beat Antonio around the face and threw him across the room as, around the room, huge football players took cover beneath small desks. That's when a lot of people at once began to scream hysterically and Michael noticed the little white boy on the floor, in a pool of blood. He hadn't seen the little white boy—the three-year-old son of one of the tutors. Who had put the little white boy there? When he’d charged Antonio, the boy somehow had been hit and thrown up against the wall. His head was now bleeding badly. Seeing the body lying in his own blood, Michael ran.

Related Characters: Michael Oher, Antonio Turner
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

In this disturbing scene, Michael Oher gets into a heated argument with his teammate, Antonio Turner. Turner has made some offensive comments about wanting to have sex with Leigh Anne, Michael’s adopted mother, and Collins, Michael’s adopted sister. Michael is so furious that he beats up Antonio in front of a roomful of people—and he also accidentally injures a little boy, the son of one of the football tutors.

Michael’s actions are horrifying and shouldn’t be excused—it’s absolutely wrong for an adult to settle a fight by attacking another adult (let alone hurting a small child in the process). But without forgiving what Michael does, it’s possible to understand his actions. On one hand, Michael is deeply loyal to his adopted family, and doesn’t like it when Antonio speaks ill of them. At the same time, Michael, in spite of his gentle nature, continues to feel uncomfortable and maladjusted at Ole Miss. He’s still an immature, lonely young man, and doesn’t understand how to address his own problems in a civil manner. In times of stress and anxiety, Michael defaults to one of the two strategies he learned as a young boy: fight or run. In the case of Antonio Turner, he does both.

Chapter 11 Quotes

As [Denise] had no income except for whatever the government sent her on the first of each month, the children had no money for provisions. They had no food or clothing, except what they could scrounge from churches and the street. Surprisingly often, given the abundance of public housing in Memphis, they had no shelter. When asked what he recalls of his first six years, Michael said, “Going for days having to drink water to get full. Going to other people’s houses and asking for something to eat. Sleeping outside. The mosquitoes.”

Related Characters: Michael Oher (speaker), Denise Oher
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Eleven, we learn more about Michael Oher’s rough childhood living in the Memphis inner-city. Michael’s biological mother, a woman named Denise, wasn’t much of a mother: she was a crack addict, and showed no real affection for Michael or his siblings. Furthermore, Denise didn’t do much to take care of her children, and she spent most of her money on drugs. As a result, Michael Oher had to learn to fend for himself—scrounging for food and desperately hunting for shelter.

The passage sheds new light on Michael’s behavior. In part, Michael was quiet and lonely during his early time at Briarcrest because he simply didn’t fit in with the other students—his life experiences were completely different from those of his classmates. The passage also confirms that Leigh Anne is, in many ways, more of a mother to Michael than Michael’s own biological parent—she provides Michael the emotional support that Michael’s biological mother doesn’t.

But Big Zach’s girlfriend had already given birth to their first child. She didn’t want to go to Florida State, and the truth was he didn’t really feel like doing his schoolwork or making his grades. Surrounded by friends who told him that he’d be wasting his time to even try college, he quit. He never even finished high school.

Related Characters: Zachary Bright
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

In this heartbreaking passage, we learn about a friend of Michael Oher named Zachary Bright, nicknamed Big Zach. Big Zach excelled at football, and could have attended a good college on a sports scholarship. However, partly because his peers pressured him to stay, partly because he wanted to take care of his girlfriend and kid, and partly because he was feeling unmotivated, Zach chose not to accept the scholarship.

The passage is tragic because, by accepting a football scholarship, Zach could have found a way to get out of the inner-city and build a better life for himself. With a college degree he could have gotten a good job, or even played in the NFL. Peer pressure and the more abstract, driving force of momentum can be powerful deterrents to success, reminding us that Michael succeeds not only because of his talent as a football player, but because of his determination and resolve—and his good luck in meeting the supportive Tuohys, of course.

Chapter 12 Quotes

And, after a long round of fulsome apologies and ten hours of community service, Michael was restored to his former status of model citizen—and the incident never even hit the campus newspaper. It just went away, the way it would have gone away for some well-to-do white kid. Of course, lessons were learned and points of view exchanged. Coach O, for instance, pulled Michael into his office to discuss The Responsibilities of Being Michael Oher. Rather dramatically, Coach O extracted from his desk a thick folder stuffed with newspaper clippings, and dropped it with a thud. “Dajus da crap dey wrotebout me last sittee days!” he boomed. (That’s just the crap they wrote about me in the last sixty days!) He went on to lecture Michael on the burdens of conspicuous success. “Let me tell you something, son,” he concluded (in translation). “It is lonely at the top.”

Related Characters: Ed Orgeron (speaker), Michael Oher
Page Number: 316
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Michael faces the consequences of beating up another student, and accidentally hurting a child—but the only problem is, there aren’t any real consequences to speak of. Michael does some minimal community service, and that’s that. Michael’s almost total lack of discipline for his actions (and, to be clear, he deserves some kind of punishment for beating up another kid) reflects his new status as an elite football player. If Michael were still living in the inner-city, by contrast, it’s not hard to imagine a racist criminal justice system sentencing him to years in prison for the same offense.

As Lewis describes it, Michael gets a slap on the wrist for his actions, the same punishment that a “well-to-do white kid” would receive. However, Michael’s avoidance of punishment is still unfair and enabling, just as it would be for any “well-to-do white kid.” Consider the way Orgeron excuses Michael’s behavior with the vague advice of “It is lonely at the top”—as if Michael, the guy who beat up his teammate, is the real victim of the incident. College athletic programs have gotten a lot of criticism for producing entitled young men who think the world revolves around them—and with enablers like Orgeron in charge, it’s not hard to see why.

Then and there Leigh Anne made a decision: she wasn't finished. “I want a building,” she said. “We're going to open a foundation that’s only going to help out kids with athletic ability who don't have the academics to go to college. Screw the NCAA. I don't care what people say. I don't care if they say we're only interested in them because they're good at sports. Sports is all we know about. And there are hundreds of kids in Memphis alone with this story.”

Related Characters: Leigh Anne Tuohy (speaker)
Page Number: 323-324
Explanation and Analysis:

After Michael Oher goes to school at the University of Mississippi, Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband come under criticism for allegedly manipulating Michael into attending their alma mater; there are even some who say that Leigh Anne and Sean adopted Michael entirely because they wanted to recruit a good athlete for their college. But at least as Lewis portrays the story, such an accusation appears entirely false. Leigh Anne is seemingly motivated by genuine love and compassion for Michael, and for other impoverished Memphis youths as well. And in this passage, we see the full extent of Leigh Anne’s generosity: she wants to open a center to help talented inner-city athletes bring up their grades, so that they can go to college too.

Leigh Anne is single-minded in her quest to help the unfortunate. She acknowledges that some people might say there are better ways for her to spend her money than on a sports foundation—however, she insists, “sports is all we know,” perhaps suggesting that sports, regardless of whether it’s truly important or not, represent a subject that Leigh Anne and her husband know a lot about, and therefore are an excellent way for them to give to charity. In all, the passage is exemplary of what makes Leigh Anne such a compelling character: while some aspects of her character might be distasteful or annoying to people (her Republican beliefs, her Christianity, her love for sports), it’s hard to argue that she’s an exceptionally moral woman who feels a genuine sense of duty to help others, and actually puts her beliefs into action.

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