The Blind Side: Evolution of a Gameby Michael Lewis Published 17 Sep 2007
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|Publisher||W. W. Norton Company|
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When we first meet Michael Oher, he is one of thirteen children by a mother addicted to crack; he does not know his real name, his father, his birthday, or how to read or write. He takes up football and school after a rich, white, Evangelical family plucks him from the streets. Then two great forces alter Oher: the family's love and the evolution of professional football itself into a game in which the quarterback must be protected at any cost. Our protagonist becomes the priceless package of size, speed, and agility necessary to guard the quarterback's greatest vulnerability: his blind side.
"The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" Reviews
On the merits of the story alone, I enjoyed this book. Lewis is a very good writer, and he is able to tell a compelling story and educate the less knowledgeable without coming off as condescending, which is more difficult than it sounds. The story of Michael Oher is compelling (and ongoing), and it's hard not to root for him.
That said, I have my suspicions about the altruism at the heart of the story. There are too many questionable motivations floating about, although, to Lewis's credit, he does acknowledge them. As much as Lewis tries to drive the point home that the Tuohy family are just generous, kind people, I do find the story of Michael's recruitment and subsequent (spoiler alert) commitment to Ole Miss very suspect. Consider the facts: 1)Ole Miss is far from a college football powerhouse, even (especially?) playing in the super competitive SEC; 2)Oher was recruited by literally every major college program in the country, many of which could have afforded Oher greater opportunities for national exposure and better quality education; 3)Ole Miss very sketchily hired Michael's high school football coach to their staff immediately before or after (I can't remember the exact timeline) Michael committed to Ole Miss; 4)The Tuohys are well known alumni and benefactors to Ole Miss; 5)Michael Lewis is an old friend of Sean Tuohy.
Taken individually, these factors can be dismissed as coincidence. Together, it adds up to something fishy. I simply don't believe the Tuohy's motives were pure in adopting Michael, and I don't like the way that Lewis casually brushes off the idea that this feel good story could have arose from more sinister origins. However, that said, he doesn't take the Michael Moore route and does, at the very least, address these issues, and it is a heck of a story. Maybe it's not the made for Hollywood story Lewis presents it as, but, then again, neither are most made for Hollywood stories.
The Blind Side features two story lines, one traces the evolution of offensive football since the early 1980's specifically the way it reacted to the way Hall of Fame revolutionized the Outside Linebacker position was played. Thanks to Taylor's prowess at rushing the Quarterback, the Left Tackle(who protects the QB's blind side) quickly became one of the most important, and highest-paid positions on the football field.
The second storyline focuses on Michael Oher, who has all the psyical gifts that NFL scouts look for in the prototypical Left Tackle, the problem: can Michael make the grades necessary to play college football? We follow Michael on his journey from impoverished upbringing, to his enrollement at an elite christian school, where he is taken in by a white family, to his eventual enrollment at Ole Miss. Along the way, we are given a glimpse into the often predatory recruiting process that top prospects must negotiate.
Michael is projected to be a first round pick in April's NFL draft.
There have only been a handful of great books on Football published in the past 20 years, and this is one of them.
Hoop Dreams detailed the machine built around taking poor black athletes from the inner city and sticking them into primarily white school systems that only cared about those athletes to the extent that they would help their sports teams win. The Blind Side concerns itself with a similar story, except Michael Lewis tends to pause breathlessly and exclaim isn't this great? He admits that the father, Sean, "had been born with a talent for seeing the court, taking in every angle and every other player, and then attacking in the most efficient way possible. The talent translated beautifully from basketball into life." But Lewis never really weighs the possibility that maybe this chronic manipulater had some dubious intentions when, on essentially a whim, he ends up adopting a tremendous football talent, Michael, a year before Michael decides where he wants to play his college ball. When an NCAA investigator feels that this adoption (and the tens of thousands of dollars thrown towards Michael) might be some attempt to circumvent the rules and buy his favor, Lewis can't help but vilify her. "[The NCAA] didn't care how things were, only how they could be made to seem. A poor black football star inside the home of this rich white booster could be made to seem scandalous, and so here they were, bothering Michael. The lady said she was just trying to establish the facts of the case, but the facts didn't descibe the case... They had violated the letter of every NCAA rule ever written. They'd given Michael more than food, clothing, and shelter. They'd given him a life." And, desipte this ascribed nobility of Sean, his family, and the support system of tutors willing to get him passing grades by any means at hand, I never found myself buying into it fully. Yes, I find myself rooting for Michael Oher to make it in the NFL, but mainly because I feel that if he doesn't, the life that these people have given him will seep away, and he'll be back on the streets from which he was rescued.
I also was annoyed by which the degree Lewis writes from a perspective of "poor black" athletes and "rich white" heroes. He can't help himself from throwing these modifiers on any person where they might apply. But when talking of about a black investment banker, he isn't written as "a rich black banker", instead he is merely described as being from Washington, D.C. Michael is meant to stand in for so much of what is happening in this country in terms of race and economics, and, while large though he may be, he isn't big enough to tell this story unless Lewis cuts off these annoying details and nuances.
In the end, it rings with the empty ease of a cheer before a football game: "Whitey, go adopt a black kid that can run 4.3 40, on three!"
This book has quite a few different stories going on:
1) the importance of and rise of the offensive lineman 2) the story of Michael Oher, 3)LT (as in Lawrence Taylor of the NY Giants)and Bill Walsh (football coach, 49er's) these are "supporting stories" amongst others
I heard of the movie and I like football books, so I thought I would enjoy this story about Michael Oher (and I did). I assumed it was just a story about Michael Oher, which it wasn't.
I read Lewis's book Moneyball awhile back and not only did I enjoy it, I winded up buying a few other books he had suggested etc.. and that book has really stayed with me.
Ok, so if you want to read this book- just know that it is not just an inspirational story about a poor kid who makes it to the NFl, it is also a very matter of fact book about the evolution of certain postions in football (mostly the left tackle, who protects the blindside of the QB) and also about some of the changes in the game of football.
Lewis writes two stories here. One is interesting. The other is mildly intriguing and probably not as a big a story as it seems.
When telling the story of Michael Oher, a poor black kid from Memphis adopted by a loaded white family and the journey he takes from uncommunicative, unschooled, untrusting child to a succesful lineman starring at Ole Miss it's a good story.
When writing about the emergence of the left tackle position in the NFL it was hard not to skip passages.
Left tackle is an key position and the excerpts from players and coaches is interesting. Reading about the gruesome ways Lawrence Taylor destroyed people is great.
But it's tedious and in the end it's hard to argue it's important. There's no real comparison to other ways the game has evolved.
The Michael story left me uncomfortable. As great a story as his is (and it's still going - when his NFL draft approaches, Lewis-hype will ensure you know he's available), significant ethical questions are raised by the conduct of his adoptive family.
Lewis correctly raises the questions, though he had little choice after the NCAA launched an investigation into the subject.
But he never attempts to answer them.
And his portrayal of the Tuohy family never wavers from supportive. Lewis never tackles their involvement, preferring to leave the questioning to others, and in doing so he is doing the story a disfavour.
9/25/09 - As a book club read, this was different. And as football is not my favorite sport (I don't dislike it, but for me it ranks below baseball & basketball), I wasn't sure how I was going to like it, but I went in with an open mind. It basically alternates between chapters about football player Michael Oher's "history" & the emerging importance of the position of left tackle in the NFL and in college football. Overall, a very educational story for me. For someone who doesn't necessarily consider themselves a true football fan, some of the football history may seem a little dry. I was okay with it, but tended to start skimming the further I got into the book.
The chapters specifically about Michael Oher were more engaging, although I feel myself left with a sour taste in my mouth as to the role the Tuohy family played in developing this young man's sports career. I have mixed feelings about that. If not for the financial & other numerous supports that the family provided him, he'd still be just another black kid on the street, struggling to survive. Hence, his is an inspiring story and the Tuohy's should probably be commended for their unfaltering support of Oher. But it reaffirms to me that in many cases, money makes the world go 'round, and in many instances, it was the Tuohy money that allowed all of this to happen. It makes one wonder about all of the other potential "stars" out there (athletes & other), who are unable to realize their potential because they're not fortunate to "fall into" the life-altering situation that Oher did.