Michael Oher‘s high school football coach is weighing in on the lawsuit between Oher and the Tuohy family.
The 37-year-old former NFL pro filed a lawsuit on Monday that alleges that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy tricked him into a conservatorship and lied about his adoption status when he was 18.
Auburn coach Hugh Freeze, who coached Oher at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, called the legal drama “sad.”
“I think it’s sad. I certainly don’t claim to understand all the ins and outs of adoption, conservatory, all of that. I know what I witnessed,” Freeze said Thursday, per The Athletic’s David Ubben. “I witnessed a family that totally took in a young man and I think without that, there is no story.”
Although Freeze said he’s not aware of the specific details surrounding the lawsuit, he defended the Tuohys, calling their handling of the situation while Oher was in high school “admirable.”
“I know this: If Michael called Sean right now and said let’s work this thing out, Sean and Leigh Anne would be there in a hurry to hug his neck and tell him he’s loved,” the longtime football coach said. “I hope he feels that. Until you walk in people’s shoes, I don’t claim to have all the answers to anything, but I think whatever happens will happen. The facts will come out. But I love both sides of it.”
The 14-page petition filed in Shelby County, Tennessee, probate court, by Oher on Monday, alleges that the Tuohys used their power as conservators to negotiate a deal with 20th Century Fox that paid them and their biological children — Collins Tuohy and Sean Tuohy Jr. — millions of dollars in royalties from The Blind Side, which earned more than $330 million. The petition alleges that all four members of the Tuohy family were paid $225,000 for the film plus 2.5% of the film’s proceeds.
Oher claims that he “at no time willingly or knowingly” signed said contract, which gives away the “perpetual, unconditional, and exclusive” rights to his name, likeness, voice, appearance, personality, personal experiences, incidents, situations, and events taken from his life with no payment. The document has a signature that appears to be his, but the petition claims “nobody ever presented this document to him with any explanation.”
In the wake of the bombshell lawsuit, a lawyer for the couple, said that the family is reeling. Speaking exclusively with ET, the Tuohy family’s attorney, Steve Farese, Sr., said Sean and Leigh Ann are treating the drama “like a death in the family.”
“There are so many emotions that would fit,” Farese said. “It’s a family being fragmented. Yes, the negative publicity, of course, hurts — as anyone that has a modicum of dignity is going to feel that heat — but their biggest concern is, ‘What’s going on?'”
He continued, “‘Why,’ they ask, ‘do you really believe that we would cheat you out of your money?'”
“This was the conservatorship of a person,” Farese maintained to ET. “This was not a conservatorship of his finances.”
Farese claimed that the main function of the conservatorship was to assist Oher with his admission to Ole Miss: University of Mississippi, where the athlete went on to earn All-American honors.
“No money ever went into a conservatorship,” he said. “The Tuohy family never had any say-so in his contracts.”
Farese doubled down that the arrangement “has not inhibited [Oher] in any way. He will not be able to show that it cost him money, or he wasn’t able to do something.”
Oher claims he only learned details of the conservatorship in February. He said that he was asked to sign papers under the belief that it was part of the “adoption process,” but that they were actually conservatorship papers that would strip away his legal rights. The documents, filed in 2004, say the Tuohys “have all powers of attorney to act on his behalf” and that Oher “shall not be allowed to enter into any contracts or bind himself without the direct approval of his conservators.”
“When you adopt a child, you bring him into your home, you treat him as your own,” Farese said. “You support him financially, emotionally, every way possible. In his sporting activities, you go to the games. You treat him the same as you do your other children. So, it cuts both ways.”
He continues, “Yeah, [Oher] could feel like, ‘I’ve been adopted.’ The truth of the matter is they were treating him as if he were adopted.”
In a lengthy statement to ET, the Tuohys’ other attorney, Marty Singer, said, “Should Mr. Oher wish to terminate the conservatorship, either now or at any time in the future, the Tuohys will never oppose it in any way.”