You might think you know Ravens alum Michael Oher from “The Blind Side,” the 2009 Oscar-nominated film inspired by Oher’s battle through poverty and homelessness in his youth, before being recruited to play football at the University of Mississippi. It ends with an update: Oher had made it into the NFL.
That movie, based on a book of the same name, “turned me into something so rare it almost doesn’t exist — a famous offensive lineman,” Oher remarks in his new book, “When Your Back’s Against the Wall,” written with author Don Yaeger and published Aug. 8 by Avery.
But the cinematic tale didn’t get his story quite right. Oher, 37, “wasn’t a poor student” despite being behind in school, he writes in his latest book, and persevered in large part on his own.
“Shedding light and giving hope to people who think that someone has to rescue them” is Oher’s goal, he told The Baltimore Sun in a recent phone interview. “You have every tool that you need to be successful.”
‘The title is me’
“When Your Back’s Against the Wall” is Oher’s second book (his first being the 2012 bestselling memoir “I Beat the Odds”) and a fresh chance to write his own narrative. Broken into two parts — one examining his career and philanthropic aspirations, the other a “playbook” of principles for navigating life’s challenges — the book offers a peek behind the curtains, into the mindset that Oher credits for his triumphs.
Jokes from Oher’s public speaking gigs and anecdotes like one about the first time he met the woman (Tiffany) who would later become his wife, infuse the book with humor. Other passages are more serious, as Oher examines the bruises to his mental health set off by physical injury.
“Life has been a fight, but one thing that I can say: I’ve been relentless on overcoming the obstacles,” he said. “The title is me.”
In part forward-looking, the book highlights Oher’s desire to nurture children with backgrounds similar to his own.
His goal of starting a school — detailed in the book — is still a dream, Oher said. But the Oher Foundation, started almost a decade ago, is a reality, one that now focuses on education and supporting students via mentorship in schools.
“Eventually, we’d have a school and have homes for kids … have a village where it can be a one-stop shop” with everything children need to thrive, he said. “What changed my life was having a consistent, positive presence in my life. You have to be there, because you can’t trust someone who’s here one day and gone the next.”
Some of the greatest lessons in Oher’s book come from reflection on his past, including his NFL football career. In his five seasons with the Ravens, the team that first drafted Oher, he played both right and left tackle, winning a Super Bowl ring in 2013. He left the team after signing a contract with the Tennessee Titans in 2014.
“I had red flags on me, coming out before the draft, about how I probably couldn’t read, or how I couldn’t learn a playbook. So many false narratives,” Oher said of his transition from college football to the NFL. “I came up to visit [the Ravens] and I sat down with everyone in that facility, every person there. … They did all the work to find out who I was as a person, as a football player. Other teams didn’t do that.”
“If you’re a Raven, they believe in you,” he said, adding that Baltimore had “the best fans in the league.”
“We did do a lot of winning, so that makes it easy,” he said.
‘You can’t do anything alone’
But Oher doesn’t shy away in his book from acknowledging the tougher times, like the 2016 concussion he sustained while playing for the Carolina Panthers that marked the beginning of the end of his NFL career. At one point, Oher writes, he struggled to emerge from the dark cocoon of his room.
“You continue to fight, you don’t give up on yourself,” he said. “I knew people were depending on me, I knew I had a bigger purpose.”
Now, he sees sharing his experiences as a way to help others battling mental illness, including in “poverty-stricken areas.”
“It starts building and building and building, and eventually you explode,” he said. “I can handle bringing it up and staring it right in the face.”
A tight-knit cadre of friends — what Oher describes in his book as a “small circle” — is critical to overcoming adversity, he said.
“Having that circle, someone that you can talk to who’s going to be honest and positive and steering you in the right direction, it’s something that we all need, especially in tough times,” he said. “You can’t do anything alone.”
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