Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Blind Side

I am again setting to one side writing to and about Margaret Humphreys, the Child Migration Trust, the recently released film, the books and my knowledge before and after being reminded. I need to finish the books and other reading and then write from different perspectives worthy of the issues involved.

So I will attempt to become up todate in my viewing of films and television and reporting on my continuing evolvement into a writer and contemporary creative artist. I also opened another door yesterday to the Second World War, the Pacific Theatre of bloodshed and human misery. The series -Pacific, originally shown on the Sky Film channel is being re run on Sky Atlantic but yesterday struggling to get the internet to work effectively in general and transfer from lap top to TV I found that the series is available on Sky Anytime Internet and watched the first two episodes. I will leave this subject until I have completed Empty Cradles, Sunshine and Oranges and the rest of the emotional wringer I have set for myself, trauma upon trauma of others and my own.

It is 7 am on 14th April 2011 and I have drunk my first cup of coffee, after deciding to gives the Leisure a miss and need some food. I begin with one of several films- The Blind Side a gooey mash of sentimentality and how America wants to see itself based on the true story of Michael Oher, the offensive left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League. The true story is far better and more important than the film, and in fairness the reality is also of good Christian people whose standards are maintained consistently. So instead of beginning with the film and then moving onto the reality, I begin with the reality.

Michael was born Michael Jerome Williams Jnr 28th May 1986, the year that Margaret Humphreys became confronted with one aspect of the horror of the British record by state and religious based bodies to provide appropriate care for children in need. His father was a criminal, who shared a cell with Michael’s mother’s brother and who was murdered and pushed over a bridge when Michael was in High School. His mother is an alcoholic and crack cocaine addict who produced thirteen children.

What has happened to his brothers and sisters before Michael was helped to make a different life for him and what is his present relationship with them and his biological mother is not known to me.

Nor do I know the extent to which his subsequent foster family who became his legal guardians have used their wealth and position to make a difference to his siblings and to others in a similar situation. In comparing stories and roles this could be the difference between the Tuohy family and Margaret Humphreys who after being confronted by one situation devoted her life with her husband and children to as many people with the same issues as money and time were available to her.

This is not to belittle the Tuohy epiphany contribution to the life of Michael Oher but to place his story and the film in the true perspective of the reality of the USA today. The country remains racist and segregated, has failed to tackle drug abuse and alcoholism and prides itself on its vast differential between rich and poor. It remains a fundamentally hypocritical and unchristian practicing nation although under President Obama it appears to be attempting to put his own house in order before attempting to lead the free world while supporting feudal dictatorships, the extermination of men women and children, together with their starvation and death from treatable disease. The republican supporting majority of the country is not willing to improve the balancing of the budget in a humane way or to embrace a national health care programme which enables all to receive the minimum care when needed. The danger of the Oher story and film is that it make good people feel comfortable and accepting they do not have to do more, every day, and sometimes at great personal cost to maintain present levels of civilization let alone make the required progress.

I also pose the question would this couple and their children have devoted themselves to Michael and continued to do so if he had not shown potential as an American football player. In fairness this is a question posed in the film and I presume also in the book and which it is possible to answer with evidential support that first and foremost the Tuohy’s provided Michael with a Christian education and loving family home and while they were keen for him to do well in sport as they were with their biological children what happened to him was down to his High School Coach and Football star spotter and recruiter Tom Lemming.

Before encountering the Tuohy family, Michael was taken into care, placed in a number of foster homes from which he ran away and attended various schools somehow managing to grow tall and large. The film attempts to answer how he managed to survive while the majority do not is that he shut out the negative aspects and development a great sense of protective caring for others, greater than the majority of human beings possess. What his story also suggests given that his academic ability progressed from significantly below average to above average is his parents were victims of their social circumstances rather than of predestined criminality and personal and social inadequacy.

The man first responsible for changing the future life of Michael was Tony Henderson, known as Big Tony who decided to enrol his son in the Briarcrest Christian High School, a non denominational fee paying school, in order to fulfil the dying wish of his grandmother/mother, and that because he had known Michael, who sometimes stayed at his home, and who attended that same public school as his son, suggested to the head of Briarcrest that they also ought to take the young man because of his potential in sport. The purpose of the school then, as now, is to provide a Christian education first; to make an all round good citizen, and this required everyone to also have a good college education. This is what the parent’s were prepared and able to pay for. This meant all pupils had to have a good record of academic ability and Michael did not by a long way and before he would be accepted he was required to successfully complete a home study programme which he failed to complete. The then Principal confirms that he was persuaded as the Christian head of a Christian school with few black pupils to take Michael anyway.

His school life started badly with several teachers believing he was unsuited because he did not have the basics and his performance was appalling. On some respects his lack of basic knowledge was similar to my own although I had managed to cope with some of the basics better than Michael by his age on admission. However fortunately there was Jennifer Graves who ran the programme for students with special needs and she saw in him potential and was not prepared to give up and ensured that he was given a chance and which is where Sean Tuohy and his wife enter the story. While the film concentrated on the role of his wife, the book written by Michael Lewis and summarised in the New York Times, under the title - the Ballard of Big Mike 24th September 2006 prior to the publication gives equal prominence to Sean, a man socially aware who made a fortunate and an upper middle class lifestyle through owning a chain of 60 fast food restaurants for the likes of KFC, Taco Bells and Long John Silver, He also had been an able basketball player at university and in the minor league and he maintained involvement doing commentaries and took an interest in anyone also trying to work their way up. He had taken in interest in the poorer students at the school, and these were predominantly black, helping to fund their scholarship and encountering Michael and working out the boy was not eating on a regular basis arranged for him to have a paid for lunch each day. His daughter was becoming the state pole vault champion (not covered in the film) which concentrates in her membership of the cheer leader’s unit, and admits she was afraid of his size until she found worked out that he was more afraid of the other students.

One cold and blustery morning on seeing Michael leaving a bus wearing shorts and the same T shirt he always wore, Sean mentioned this was the boy he was helping by proving regular lunch and when the boy said he was on the way to the gym because it was warm in there, his wife got upset and Sean knew that they were to become more involved.

That his wife immediately took an interest was against the family grain as her father was a racist US Marshall who had taken her out of public school to Briarcrest because of desegregation. When she decided to buy him a wardrobe she had no idea she would one day become his legal mother. During the autumn of 2003 Michael stayed with various families and one night after a track meeting attended by Leigh Anne Tuohy she saw Michael and gave him a lift the 30 miles to a trailer where he slept on a blow up mattress which tended to loose air as quickly as it was blown up. She took him to her home where he used a couch for two weeks during which time she visited the places where he had stayed collecting clothes that had been given. He then moved in with his own room and bed and quickly became a close friend of the young son Sean Jnr.

It is at this point I introduce the role of Tom Lemming and why the book and film is called the Blind Side. Michael now plays as a left tackle offensive, a role similar to Orlando Pace who in addition to his standard role had developed the ability to protect the quarterback‘s blind side, something which failing to do had led to the end of the career of well known quarterback. The article explains just how important finding an offensive left tackling linesman with the ability to protect the Blind Side of the quarterback had become in the game with the average National Football League player in the role earning $5.5 million a year in 2004 while by 2006 Matt Hasselbeck had signed a six year deal worth $8.2 million a year. By now it would be surprising if the figure has not reached over $10 million

What emerged in the article and the film is that one of leading recruiters of new American Football talent from High schools, Tom Lemming, had followed up a tape of Michael’s play sent to him by the ambitious school coach, and became intrigued as well as interested because the high school had no record of providing Division 1 college players and the young man was unknown outside the High school for having ability and potential or having the kind of social life which potential stars normally experienced, and that when he got to interview him at school, the boy did not know who he was, did not consider himself a football player or had played in the role of left tackle which Lemming viewed him as a result of seeing the tape. I like this because it is evidence that the Tuohy’s were providing foremost a loving and secure home.

The consequence of Lemmings appreciation of the boy’s potential is that when he notified 100 head football college who provided first division programmes On the first afternoon of Spring practice Briarcrest staff noted the arrival of coaching staff from five universities, something that had never had happened before. They could not say anything to him directly because of the rules which prevented approaches until July of an athlete’s senior year. At the end of a play involving Michael visiting coaches all went off to make private telephone calls. One of those visiting handed the team coach his card saying a full scholarship was available for Michael.

The Tuohy’s were not immediately convinced that football was the future for Michael especially because of his lack of natural aggression. He was successful in playing basketball and in throwing the discus.

(Having debated whether to go to Headingley for the first day of the game between Yorks and Durham after getting an accommodation voucher worth £15 a night at Travel Lodge, I decided to stay and see what happens over the first possibly second day. There was a little regret when Durham won the toss and decided to bat. Will Smith former captain that led Durham to their great championship win before he lost confidence and resigned after last year’s year disastrous start has returned as opening batsman, because of an injury to Stoneman. Captain Mustard is also out with injury and I have learned that Steve must have been hit on the arm and broken a bone with his second ball at the Rose Bowl last week. Smith is showing his nervous tendencies with De Venuto on 28 and Smith 21 50 without loss in 12th over).

The next problem was Michael’s record of academic performance with a history of D’s and F’s which meant there was no prospect of his being eligible for a University Placement. He needed to somehow raise his grade average from .6 to over 2.65 by the time of graduation. The family hired a private tutor to help Michael 20 hours a week and with her assistance he undertook a number of intensive Internet courses at the Brigham Young University (something not mentioned in the film) and which took him over the minimum requirement for college.

Michael was courted by the Universities of Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi and in choosing Mississippi caused an investigation by the National Collegiate Athletics Association which organises and regulates programmes and scholarships at over 1000 institutions. It is not known who complained and why, but the issue centred on whether Michael had been pushed into accepting Mississippi because it was the University of his adopted parents and that his High school coach was then given a post with the University soon after Michael agreed to go to the University where he obtained a grade I scholarship meeting the academic standards because of the Internet work with Brigham Young. In the film the inquiry does cause Michael to question the extent to which the family took him in because of his sports potential rather than his individual qualities. The NCCA did not close its case on suspicions of collusion and the High school coach was found guilty of secondary violations by contacting University staff before becoming a member of the staff.

The film ends with Michael’s graduation and visit with his family to start at Mississippi. Michael was likely to be the only graduate without a baby photo for the year book and the best Leigh Anne could achieve was one when aged 10 years taken by the state child care authorities. Her solution was to use the best appropriate photo of a black baby so he did not miss out. In the film she also warned what she would do if made a girl pregnant. Mrs Tuohy has her own Interior decorating business after attending Mississippi University where she met her husband then a basketball star. Sean was educated in New Orleans where a gymnasium is named after his father a longstanding basketball coach at the school. He is included in the University of Mississippi Hall of Fame. He continues to broadcast report Basketball games as well as enjoy the income from his now 80 strong restaurant franchise chain which also now includes Pizza Hut.

Also in the film Sean Jnr attended the various meetings between the University coaches and Michael before his decision as to which college he accepted. He asked about his ability to keep in contact with his older brother and the offer from Mississippi included the ability to lead the team out as a mascot for the first game. The film the films then ends with live film and photos of Michael being signed by the Baltimore Ravens as the 23rd pick of the 2009 draft having gained Michael on an exchange with New England Patriots for their first and fifth round selections. After his opening performances he signed a five year $13. 8 million contract as a right offensive tackle although during 2009 he played 5 of the 16 games as left tackle a position which became permanent for the 2010 season when he again played in every game. He is co authored autobiography I beat the Odds, from Homelessness to the Blind Side and Beyond has also been published. I will look out for his progress next season.

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