At the heart of Michael Lewis’s book The Blind Side is a question: why would two rich parents, Sean Tuohy and Leigh Anne Tuohy, with two biological children of their own, adopt an impoverished inner-city teenager, Michael Oher, and lavish love and attention on him? Throughout the book, characters propose various cynical answers to this question: they suggest that the Tuohys are exploiting Michael for his football talents, or that they’re motivated by white guilt or pure condescension. Nevertheless, Lewis argues that sometimes things just are how they appear to be: the Tuohys treat Michael Oher generously because they’re extraordinarily generous people.
By examining the Tuohys’ relationship with their adopted child, Michael Oher, The Blind Side makes a series of interesting points about generosity, in effect, asking, “What is generosity?” From the beginning, the book suggests that people are generous to others because they recognize their common background. Sean Tuohy, a wealthy businessman and the basketball coach at Briarcrest Christian Academy, notices Michael Oher shortly after he enrolls, on scholarship, at the school; shortly afterwards, he arranges to pay for Michael’s lunches. Sean feels a need to help Michael out and give him encouragement and support, not just because he’s a nice guy but because Sean also came from an impoverished household and worked hard for his success, and had help from other people: he sees it as his duty to help out others in the position he was once in. The Blind Side further suggests that people are generous because they feel a more abstract, universal duty to help people in need—a duty that’s often rooted in religious conviction. Leigh Anne Tuohy—the woman who, probably more than anyone else, gives Michael Oher the love and support he needs to succeed—is a pious Christian; indeed, she says more than once that God has given her family money “to see how [we’re] going to handle it.” But even if extraordinary generosity is sometimes the product of a Christian background or of certain life experiences, it may also be an innate gift, which some people have and some people don’t. The well-to-do Memphis community in which The Blind Side is set is full of wealthy, Christian families, surely some of them headed by self-made millionaires, but only the Tuohys choose to help Michael Oher. Furthermore, the Tuohys choose to help Michael, rather than any number of other impoverished, lonely teenagers. In all, then, The Blind Side suggests that generosity is a mysterious, ineffable quality. Certain people feel a deep need to help certain other people, and sometimes they can’t explain why, exactly, they feel this need.
The Tuohys not only adopt Michael Oher; they also help him gain a first-rate football scholarship at their alma mater, University of Mississippi, give him endless love and support, and generally treat him like one of their own children. However, many people have criticized and questioned the Tuohys’ near-miraculous generosity. Some would argue that the Tuohys’ generosity is really just self-interest. In the final third of the book, for instance, the NCAA mounts a full-scale investigation of the Tuohys’ relationship with Michael, questioning whether they only adopted Michael to ensure that he would play football for their beloved alma mater, and whether they accepted bribes to pressure Michael to choose Mississippi. Furthermore, some readers of The Blind Side have interpreted the Tuohys’ treatment of Michael as condescending. They’ve argued that Sean and Leigh Anne chose to adopt a black, inner-city kid to assuage their sense of guilt with their own wealth and privilege, or that they treated Michael like a docile pet rather than respecting him as a mature, independent human being. Critics of the film version of The Blind Side took this argument even further, seeing the film as symptomatic of a “white savior complex” in Hollywood.
There is no explicit evidence in Michael Lewis’s book, however, to suggest that the Tuohys are motivated by anything other than benign generosity and a strong sense of duty to the unfortunate. Furthermore, the book shows how the Tuohys give Michael the tools he needs to become emotionally and financially independent, and live a mature adult life. As the book ends, the Tuohys are in the process of donating money to a foundation for inner-city teenagers, suggesting that they’re interested in helping others, not boosting their college. Ultimately, the Tuohys exhibit extraordinary generosity toward Michael, helping him become a talented NFL athlete and a confident young man.
Generosity Quotes in The Blind Side
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”