The Blind Side

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Themes and Colors
Generosity Theme Icon
Left Tackle, Protection, and Shifting Strategy Theme Icon
Football Industry and Culture Theme Icon
Racism and Outsiderness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Blind Side, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Football Industry and Culture Theme Icon

In addition to studying the life of Michael Oher and the recent history of football strategy, The Blind Side paints a picture of the football industry and football culture in the early 2000s. In Memphis, Tennessee—and, we’re led to believe, throughout the country—football is more than just a sport: it’s a billion-dollar industry and a huge part of millions of people’s lives, with its own unique culture and values. In particular, the book studies the lengths to which coaches and managers will go to recruit top football players for their programs, and the consequences that all this flattery often has on the players themselves.

Why, The Blind Side implicitly asks, is football such an important part of so many people’s lives? From the perspective of fans, football is important because it showcases the best a community has to offer. Football is entertaining to watch, but it also represents a chance for a community to compete against other communities. In this sense, football strengthens the bond between people who live in the same place: by cheering for their team, they’re also celebrating the town, city, or state where they live. From the perspective of coaches, managers, and businessmen, however, football is also important in the sense that it’s a massive, lucrative industry. NFL teams generate tens of millions of dollars in income every year, and pay their players accordingly well. Even at the college level, where players are forbidden from accepting a salary, a good football team can be an enormous asset to a school, since it generates interest, boosts donations, and brings glory. The Blind Side doesn’t suggest that football insiders are motivated purely by economics, but the book does draw attention to high financial stakes of signing or trading a player, an aspect of the game that many fans aren’t fully aware of.

Because of the huge cultural and financial importance of football, coaches will go to absurd lengths to recruit talented players: they recognize that, by signing the right talent, they could generate enormous sums of money for their programs. Toward the end of Michael Oher’s high school career, when it’s clear that he’s going to be a talented NFL player, football coaches from Division I colleges try to convince him to attend their schools. The book emphasizes the amount of money that the colleges lavish on recruiting Michael: coaches wear expensive suits, spend hours researching how to flatter Michael and his family, and travel across the country, all in the hopes of wooing Michael. Expensive as the wooing process is, it’s nothing compared to the money that Michael could generate for a Division I college by playing football there. Later in the book, the NCAA begins investigating the Tuohy family for manipulating Michael into attending the University of Mississippi. The idea that the Tuohys would go to such lengths just to get someone to go to a college seems laughable; however, football is such a huge part of American culture, and such a big moneymaker for teams, that the idea isn’t quite as silly as it appears.

For the most part, The Blind Side refrains from passing judgment on the Division I recruiting process, or the centrality of football in general. However, whether intentionally or not, the book depicts a disturbing level of entitlement that football stars enjoy because of their talent. At the University of Mississippi, Michael Oher and his teammates are encouraged to take only the easiest classes: they’re in college to play football, not to learn. After The Blind Side was published, the University of Mississippi, along with other Division I schools, came under investigation for giving out too many easy A’s to its athletes. Similarly, football players aren’t always appropriately punished for their actions. Toward the end of the book, Michael Oher gets in a violent fight with a teammate, Antonio Turner, who insults Leigh Anne Tuohy, his guardian. During the fight, Michael injures a three-year-old child, and later flees the scene. Michael is never tried for beating up his teammate or for accidentally hurting a child. His coach, Ed Orgeron, doesn’t even tell him anything about controlling his emotions or being careful not to hurt innocent people—instead, he just says, “It’s lonely at the top.” Whatever one thinks of Michael’s decision to defend his adopted mother’s honor, the incident leaves one with the distinct impression that Michael and his teammates are never really held accountable for anything they do wrong. In some ways, Michael Oher seems more emotionally stable and less entitled than his teammates, due to his strong family support. Nevertheless, the football industry seems to create a group of elite athletes who, in the short term, are treated like princes, but who, in the long run, end up uneducated and unequipped to deal with adult responsibilities.

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Football Industry and Culture ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Football Industry and Culture appears in each Chapter of The Blind Side. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Football Industry and Culture Quotes in The Blind Side

Below you will find the important quotes in The Blind Side related to the theme of Football Industry and Culture.
Chapter 3 Quotes

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.

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Chapter 4 Quotes

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 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.

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.

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.