On March 30, 2005, the NCAA begins a formal investigation into the career of Michael Oher. The investigation is painful for the Tuohys, because of what it implies about their motives in adopting Michael. Someone has accused the Tuohys of “abducting” Michael so that he’ll go to their alma mater. The investigator, Joyce Thompson, asks Michael about his siblings; Michael replies without hesitation that his siblings are Collins and Sean Junior. When Sean Tuohy repeats the questions, Michael names six biological siblings, then slowly thinks of seven more.
The NCAA’s investigation concerns the possibility that the Tuohys adopted Michael because of his athletic prowess. Yet almost everything we’ve read about the Tuohys up until now contradicts such an idea—it seems that they adopt Michael simply because they come to care about him as a person. Furthermore, the passage reminds us that for all intents and purposes, the Tuohys are Michael’s family now—making the possibility of a vast Ole Miss football conspiracy seem especially ludicrous.
Thompson asks Michael how he came to live with the Tuohys. He explains that Sean Tuohy understood his situation, since he, too, grew up poor. Sean listens to his adopted son speak, and considers how cruelly the NCAA has treated his family. The NCAA is trying to show that Sean and his wife have violated NCAA rules by giving Michael food, clothing, and shelter to support his decision to attend Ole Miss. Michael has been thinking about Big Tony, who lately has been visiting once a week, and wonders if Big Tony isn’t trying to profit from his new success.
The NCAA investigation alarms Michael because it suggests that others are using him for his talent. Although Michael seems not to consider the possibility that the Tuohys would manipulate him for their own profit, he considers other people in his life, such as Big Tony, who might be trying to use him for money.
Thompson proceeds with her questioning, and Michael explains that he lived in multiple foster homes as a child; he doesn’t provide many other details, however. In the middle of questioning, Sue Mitchell enters the room and explains that Michael needs to proceed with his studying, so that he’ll be able to make the grades to go to college. Thompson insists that she needs at least five more hours with Michael; however, Mitchell insists that Michael doesn’t have five hours.
The NCAA investigation is especially stressful because it occurs at a period when Michael needs to bring up his grades enough to qualify for college football scholarships. Sue Mitchell’s dismissive, almost hostile attitude toward Thompson suggests that she too finds the NCAA’s investigation insulting and absurd.
Michael spends his final semester of high school trying to raise his GPA to a 2.65. Leigh Anne calls some of Michael’s old teachers, asking them what Michael needs to do to get a B in their classes. With Sue Mitchell’s help, Michael brings up some of his old grades, and makes A’s and B’s in his current classes, ultimately graduating 154th in a class of 157. Even so, his cumulative GPA is a mere 2.05, meaning that it’s time for Sean to step in. Sean knows about the loopholes in athlete GPA requirements. With Coach Orgeron’s help, Sean finds a way for Michael to bring up his grades by registering as “learning disabled.” Sean finds a pair of psychologists to test Michael, and they determine that he can barely read. They also realize that Michael has become adept at disguising his learning deficiencies from his teachers to avoid embarrassment. However, the psychologists conclude that Michael has perfectly average intelligence—he just hasn’t had the experiences that most teenagers have. From Sean’s perspective, this is good news—it means that Michael qualifies as learning disabled.
Michael improves in his classes, perhaps suggesting that after many years of falling behind in class, he just needed extra help and encouragement to grow as a student. To ensure that Michael qualifies for scholarships, however, Ed Orgeron helps Sean find a loophole for Michael’s GPA, suggesting that he’s had lots of experience with athletes who are also poor students. (The passage does not say whether the two psychologists who declare Michael to be learning disabled were the first two psychologists Tuohy approached—leaving open the possibility that Tuohy shopped around for a psychological finding that would help Michael play college football.) The passage emphasizes some potentially unethical aspects of the football recruiting process by stressing that, to Tuohy, Michael’s disability is “good news”—suggesting that, for Sean, the fact that Michael will be able to play football outweighs the drawback of a learning disability.
For the rest of the year, Michael enrolls in a program of correspondence courses designed for the learning disabled. He works closely with Sue Mitchell to bring up his grades. He doesn’t show interest in reading, and says that he’s only studying so that he can play football. However, Sue and Sean find ways to make learning fun. When teaching English, Sue brings up the poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Sean, who memorized the poem years before, entertains Michael by comparing the soldiers in the poem to athletes in a game.
The passage suggests that Michael’s devotion to football is interfering with his ability to learn—in other words, an important part of his development as a human being. However, it might also imply that, in spite of his setbacks in life, Michael is a curious student—it’s just that, unlike most of his classmates, he hasn’t had any way of making connections between his own life and his academics.
A month after her first interview, Joyce Thompson returns from the NCAA to talk to Michael again. In a way, Thompson’s job is to investigate the black market surrounding college athletes. Colleges aren’t allowed to offer athletes anything beyond free tuition, room, and board—even though the best college athletes generate millions of dollars in income for their schools. She proceeds to ask Michael the same questions she asked him a month ago, with Sean in the room. Sean becomes angry when Thompson begins asking Michael about his correspondence courses. Sean claims he has no idea what courses Michael takes, and Michael seems unsure, too. Thompson rolls her eyes at this information, making Sean even more furious.
The implication of Thompson’s questions would seem to be that Michael is taking easy courses to qualify for football scholarships—or even that Sue Mitchell is giving him unfair help with those courses. Even if Thompson’s point—that the Tuohys have manipulated Michael in order to bring honor to their alma mater—is unlikely, there’s some truth in the idea that Michael is just treating class as a means to the end of playing college football. Also, the passage provides important background information about why the NCAA is investigating the Tuohys: considering the millions of dollars surrounding the recruitment process, the NCAA wants to ensure that there’s no bribery or manipulation surrounding Michael’s decision to go to Ole Miss (presumably, the NCAA has found evidence of bribery and manipulation before).
After the interview, Sean apologizes for his rudeness, and stresses that, whatever the NCAA might think, Ole Miss isn’t bribing him to pressure Michael—clearly, he’s too wealthy to be bought. Thompson begins to open up to Sean after this exchange, and she asks him more questions about Michael’s childhood and family situation. Sean mentions, “We can’t look at a kid who’s in trouble now without asking, ‘If we help him, could we turn him around?’” Thompson is shocked by this idea—apparently, the Tuohys are thinking of doing what they did for Michael, again.
Sean makes the case that the University of Mississippi couldn’t be bribing him, because Sean is too rich to be bought—even though this logic seems to fall apart in the face of the reality, which is that many already-rich people often do unethical things to make even the smallest of profits. Yet by bringing up the possibility of helping another disadvantaged black youth, Sean further suggests that he’s serious about helping the disadvantaged, and not just acting out of a love for football or any loyalty to his college.
As Michael approaches the end of high school, he has to find a baby picture—which, traditionally, is included in the Briarcrest yearbook. With much difficulty, Leigh Anne succeeds in finding a picture of Michael as a ten-year-old. Afterwards, she goes on the internet, finds “the cutest picture of a little black baby I could find,” prints it out, and sends it to Briarcrest. Michael graduates, and his family—the Tuohys, as well as Big Tony—are present to cheer for him. However, Denise, Michael’s mother, doesn’t come. When Michael Oher’s name is called, Sue Mitchell cries and Leigh Anne laughs and cheers.
In spite of the pressure from the NCAA, Michael succeeds in graduating from Briarcrest, bringing great pride to his family and his tutor. Michael’s graduation merely confirms what was already clear: the Tuohys are Michael’s true family now. (However, Leigh Anne’s remarks about a “little black baby” could be interpreted as condescending, since they suggest that fitting in with Briarcrest tradition is more important to Leigh Anne than representing Michael truthfully and being honest about his early life—and they also suggest that she might see all black children as inherently indistinguishable.)
On July 29, Sean sends the results of Michael’s correspondence courses to the NCAA, and shortly afterwards, the NCAA tells Michael that he’ll be going to college and playing football. Coach Orgeron plans to use Michael extensively in his first season coaching the Ole Miss Rebels; however, Sean is worried that Orgeron won’t be patient enough with Michael, and will rely too heavily on Michael’s natural ability. Sean also stresses that Michael is a visual learner. Orgeron seems receptive to Sean’s advice.
The NCAA investigation into the Tuohys’ relationship with Michael yields no proof of manipulation or coercion: as we’ve seen, the Tuohys seem completely sincere in their love for Michael. The Tuohys continue to take an active role in Michael’s life and his success as an Ole Miss athlete, but they seemingly help him play football because they care about him, not the other way around.