Last month I finally had a chance to read The Blind Side by Michael Lewis. I had thoroughly enjoyed his two previous books, Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, (both of which are well worth reading if you have not already read them), and I was looking forward to reading this one. Overall, I’m glad I did.
As so many other reviews have pointed out (this is a particularly good one by David Berri), The Blind Side details the evolution of the importance of football’s left tackle position on the offensive line to protect the blind side of right-handed quarterbacks. The analysis and the writing are typical, high-quality Michael Lewis work. I learned a lot from the book, and I enjoyed reading this material.
But none of the reviews I’ve read has raised serious questions about the Michael Oher portion of the book. On the surface, the story looks like a rags-to-riches, Christian, giving, sharing the story. A kid from the ghetto has the general physical tools and ability to become a left tackle, and a family takes him in, buys him clothes, and helps him get through a private high school and into a major university. Given his nearly complete lack of education, he pretty much has to cram all of the grades K – 12 into three or four years of school, and his success came about primarily because of the dedication and wealth of his foster family. He worked hard, and so did they; and eventually, he received a full ride to Ole Miss. From the telling of the story, it seems likely that they’d have done most of this regardless of whether he’d had the physical traits to be a left tackle, and so the story really does involve dedication and giving on the part of Oher’s foster family.
Beneath that cinderfella story, though, we learn that his foster family hired tutoring galore for him and that even after the tutors worked with him for several years, his reading comprehension and concentration were so low that he had to have major works of literature read aloud to him and explained to him so he (or a tutor?) could write out short essays about them. We learn that he was given a driver’s license because he was a football player, even though he apparently failed the exam. We learn that even though his tested I.Q. score increased after a few years, his ACT score was still sufficiently low that he needed to take some remedial courses online (and get very high grades in them) to qualify for admission to the university. We learn that his private tutors, despite all their time and effort in high school, had to go to university with him to help him maintain his eligibility there. We learn that he had several people working especially with him to teach him the playbook – that he didn’t seem to be able to learn it on his own. And we learn that his rich step-father bailed him out of a difficult assault situation during his first year in university.
How many times has Michael Oher been given the message that because he might become an NFL left tackle, people will bend or break the rules for him? What message does this send to him and to others in a similar situation?
My hope is along with everything else, Michael Oher has learned or will learn a sense of personal responsibility: that in the end, Michael Oher and his foster family recognize that he got lucky, both physically and in being hooked up with the family. He received a chance that so many others in his situation will never receive. If/when he makes it to the NFL, I hope he uses some of his income and wealth to provide many, much earlier, educational opportunities for others from similarly destitute backgrounds.