Nowadays, Sean Touhy Jr., runs the NIL collective for UCF athletics, working closely with UCF football coach Gus Mazahn and Terry Mohajir, the former Arkansas State athletic director.
Tuohy, better known as “SJ,” is a former Arkansas football staffer who certainly knows his way around money. His dad and mother at one point owned 115 fast food franchises, which played a big role in building the wealth necessary to support what the public long thought to be an adoption of a 17-year-old football star named Michael Oher.
This week, the nature of that assumption of legal authority has exploded into the national spotlight as Oher filed a petition that alleges the Tuohys tricked him into a conservatorship that gave them legal authority to make business deals in his name, without his consent, even though he was not a legal member of the family.
The NFL veteran also alleges he didn’t receive any money from the 2009 film, “The Blind Side,” which centered on his life and earned over $300 million.
His petition states that the Tuohys began negotiating a movie contract with 20th Century Fox not long after the 2006 book on which it was based. The contract, according to the petition as reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, said the Tuohys negotiated a one-time payment of $225,000, plus 2.5% of all future proceeds from the movie for themselves and their two natural-born children.
The petition added Oher, now 37 years old, never received anything from the movie’s proceeds while the Tuohys earned millions of dollars.
How much was at stake is unclear and will be subject of upcoming litigation, but according to sources close to the situation, the Tuohys made approximately $700,000 in total that was supposed to be divided between Sean, Leigh Anne, SJ, Collins and Michael, Outkick’s Grayson Weir wrote. The Blind Side’s author Michael Lewis, meanwhile, told The Washington Post that he and the Tuohys were paid around $350,000 in royalties upon the film’s initial release and that Oher had stopped cashing his royalty checks.
Lewis added he believes the Tuohys deposited Oher’s earnings from the film in a trust.
Sean Tuohy Jr Balks, Brings Arkansas Recruiting Into It
If the Tuohys really were keeping all that money away from Oher to enrich themselves, it would have been quite a scheme, Sean Tuohy Jr. said in a recent interview with Barstool Sports. It would have taken some major brainpower to orchestrate such a plot over so many years to bank off Oher and his story of success in college football and the NFL despite growing up as one of 12 children to an alcoholic mother and frequently imprisoned father.
“I mean, that’s such a compliment to intelligence level of my family,” Tuohy Jr. said. “To be able to pull that off and execute it, we are so much smarter than everyone else if that was the case.”
He then alluded to his work as the Razorbacks’ assistant director of football operations in the 2018 and 2019 seasons as helping show he’s not exactly a genius in terms of predictive abilities.
He explained how part of his job at different college football programs was to “evaluate the value of high school athletes” and their projected impact at the next level. “I’ve missed on more four and five star kids when I was at the University of Arkansas and now at UCF.”
Tuohy then essentially says if his family’s acumen were as sharp as Oher’s lawsuit alleges it to be, he would have much more success with his recruiting projections and would be “working for Nick Saban if that was the case.”
In other part of the Barstool Sports interview, Tuohy adds: “Man, if I had $2 million in my bank account, it would be in my email signature and say, ‘Signed, SJ Tuohy, multi-millionaire… I get it, why he’s mad. I completely understand. It stinks that it’ll play out on a very public stage. … You will never hear me say anything bad about Michael Oher in any capacity other than I’m upset that he feels the way that he does.”
While the public split between the Tuohys and Oher appears messy at this point, SJ at least has plenty of fond memories to fall back on to remind him of better days. As much as it’s still possible, to do, he wants to maintain cordial relations.
Arkansas Football Recap
The same cannot be said of the Arkansas football fan base and Tuohy’s former boss, Chad Morris. Tuohy originally met Morris because the two families were neighbors at the Tuohys’ weekend beach house in Destin, Florida, Sean Tuohy Jr. told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Morris played a season under Morris at SMU before coming up to Fayetteville with the man who would go down in infamy as the worst coach in program history.
As dreadful as Morris’ teams were on the gridiron, the man could actually recruit well. In terms of 247Sports class ranking, Morris’ best class came in at 240.33, which was better than Bret Bielema’s best, Bobby Petrino’s best or Houston Nutt’s best. That 2019 class featured Treylon Burks, Jalen Catalon, KJ Jefferson and Ricky Stromberg, who turned into veritable superstars and were four of the class’ 12 four-star players. Greg Brooks Jr., Trey Knox, Zach Williams, Eric Gregory, Taurean Carter, Beaux Limmer, Brady Latham all turned into solid players for the Hogs from the class, too, as three-star players.
Sure, there were sure a few recruits who didn’t pan out relative to their lofty expectations. Guys like Charles Collins and Hudson Henry, at one time rated the top prep tight end in the nation, come to mind. While working at the UA, Sean Tuohy Jr. played a few roles in the capacity of assistant director of football operations, including:
- Special Assistant to the Head Coach
- Assistant Director of Player Personnel
- Camp Director
But his most important role might have been assistant in Arkansas recruiting. “Everything he does at some point each day — usually often — falls into the No. 1 thing that is taking place in the Fred W. Smith Football Center,” Clay Henry wrote in 2019. “It’s recruiting there all day every day.” In terms of forecasting impact on the college level, Sean Tuohy Jr. did a pretty good job with that 2019 class. When he refers to whiffing on how high school blue-chip talent will do in college and beyond, it’s likely he’s referring to all the prospects he evaluated regardless of what college they ultimately chose.
At some point during his Razorback football stint, Tuohy received his first check for money made of the “Blind Side” movie.
“I was at the University of Arkansas,” he told Barstool Sports. “We were in Memphis. We were, uh, um — I’m trying not to get me illegal recruiting implications. I was around my house at the time. I met my dad for lunch and he gave me a check, and I’m like, ‘We get paid off this thing?’”
“He’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s made so much money now that they can’t hide it.’ We’ve probably — we, as in me personally only, because I can speak to that — I’ve made like $60, $70 grand over the course of the last four or five years.”
Michael Oher: Complicated Situation to Say the Least
It’s unclear how early Oher knew about the conservatorship, which the Tuohys said they set up because they are Ole Miss boosters and wanted to prevent any potential recruiting violations with Oher choosing to go to Ole Miss. In the lawsuit, he says he only found out he wasn’t formally adopted in February 2023, which SJ Tuohy finds “hard to believe.”
It’s also unclear how much, if any money, Oher has received from the blockbuster movie based on his life. The Tuohys’ attorney Martin Singer said that Oher received “an equal cut of every penny received” from the film. Singer also said Oher threatened to “plant a negative story about them in the press unless they paid him $15 million.”
That seems to align with the family texts to which Tuohy refers in Bartstool Sports interview.
“There were things back in 2020, 2021 that were like, ‘If you guys give me this much, then I won’t go public with things.’ So, I don’t know if that’s true,” he told the outlet.
It’s very possible, as the Barstool hosts point out, that both sides are operating on “two truths.” It’s possible that both sides are interpreting the same set of facts in two different ways and neither is intentionally trying to deceive the other, or the public at large.
Perhaps, given the ugliness that’s unfolding, that’s the best we can hope for at this point. That may end up being the best potential road to some kind of rapprochement down the line. The Tuohys did announce last week they intend to enter into a consent order to end the conservatorship.
Speaking to Marshall Ramsey of Mississippi Public Broadcasting on Monday before the news of his petition broke, Oher said he was “grateful for (the Tuohy family) for letting me stay my senior year there,” the Commercial Appeal reported.
Even while defending his own parents, Tuohy wants people to know he’s always loved Michael Oher and always will. “I don’t know which clip of some dumb-butt thing that I’ve said in this interview is going to go viral, I’m sure it’d be the wrong one,” he said. “But if one does, I hope it’s the fact that people go, ‘Man, that kid still loves his older brother, and they have a disagreement about what’s going on. And nothing will be the same, ultimately, but I hope both parties are still positive.'”
Michael Oher Situation Portrayed in Memoirs
As to how the Tuohys have portrayed the relationship through the years, their 2010 book, “In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving,” never uses the word “conservatorship” in its 271 pages. It does, however, include a form of “adoption” more than 30 times.
On Page 168 of his 2011 bestseller, “I Beat the Odds,” Oher describes the legal process of joining Sean Tuohy and the rest of the family in the summer after he graduated high school:
Leigh Anne and Sean had already assumed responsibility for me as guardians, which allowed them to sign my school permission slips and take me to medical appointments. This last step was the one that would make everything binding.
It kind of felt like a formality, as I’d been a part of the family for more than a year at that point. Since I was already over the age of eighteen and considered an adult by the state of Tennessee, Sean and Leigh Anne would be named as my “legal conservators.” They explained to me that it means pretty much the exact same thing as “adoptive parents,” but that the laws were just written in a way that took my age into account. Honestly, I didn’t care what it was called. I was just happy that no one could argue that we weren’t legally what we already knew was real: We were a family.
Perhaps the biggest difference between adoption and conservatorship is inheritance.
In adoption, the adopted becomes an heir. That is not the case with a conservatorship.
“A conservatorship also grants the Tuohys broad power over Oher in regard to medical and financial decisions. Adoption, which was an option, does not grant that same power,” Outkick’s Grayson Weir wrote.
As far as why the Tuohys sought a conservatorship in the first place, Sean Tuohy told told The Daily Memphian that he and Leigh Anne based their decision on the legal advice they received. Essentially, they felt it was the only option since Oher had turned 18 by that point (entering his senior year) and there was also an element of efficiency needed to make sure all the paperwork would be processed by the time he would make his college announcement in his senior year of high school. Apparently, the Tuohys were advised that the adoption process could drag out too long.
However, “multiple family attorneys in Tennessee told Yahoo Sports that the advice Sean says he received was incorrect and the Tuohys could have adopted Oher at 18 as long as they had his consent,” Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg wrote. “As Nashville-based attorney Lisa Collins put it, “Adult adoption is allowed in Tennessee. It’s been the same law since I started practicing 30 years ago.”
See the Sean Tuohy interview about Michael Oher starting around the 1:08 mark below: