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.
Football Industry and Culture ThemeTracker
Football Industry and Culture Quotes in The Blind Side
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”