Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Blindside is a new movie out now and selling a lot of tickets. It's second to the vampire movie that is part of a series that is wildly popular for some reason I don't think I would ever understand. I do understand football and The Blind Side by Michael Lewis was a good football read before it was a movie. I have not seen the movie but I am almost finished with the book. Not only is Blindside a good football book, it is a good story about a current NFL football player, Michael Oher(pronounced Oar) who plays offensive line for the Baltimore Ravens. Before that he starred at Ole Miss and was a first round draft pick. Before that, well, that's the story told in the book. Michael's future would have been very different if his life path had not crossed that of the Tuohy family of Memphis, TN. That is the white, rich, Christian, Tuohy family. Sean Tuohy was an outstanding athlete at Ole Miss and owns a lot of Taco Bells in the Memphis area. The Tuohy kids go to Briercrest Christian School outside Memphis, a school that was founded when school integration came to Memphis in the early 70s. When that happened parents yanked 7,000 kids out of the Memphis public schools and a whole new private school system sprung up overnight. Briercrest became one of the biggest and best. It certainly was one of the most well funded. For instance, the Briercrest football team meets in a million dollar field house. The head coach has a paid staff of six assistant coaches as well as several volunteers. He could charter a jet for away game travel but doesn't because it might look like the football program was too rich. They were good; Briercrest has won five Tennessee state championships in the 2000s. Briercrest and one other large Memphis area Christian school were perennial state powers.

Back to the story. Michael is an almost homeless black kid from the poorest part of Memphis. He is being raised by Big Tony. His mother is living but she is an alcoholic. His father is non-existent. The public school is just passing him along. He has learned nothing by the time he is in high school and meets the Tuohys. They take him in. They supply all his needs and wants just like he was one of their own kids. They advocate for him. He is a huge, athletic kid who has the college football powers drooling over him. He gets scholarship offers from every major Division 1 college. He can go anywhere he wants on a full ride. He is taken in by the Tuohy family. They genuinely treat him as part of their family. He feels loved as if he was born into their family. Like I said, it's a great story. Michael Lewis is a great sportswriter.

Christianity is part of the story, too. The Tuohys are Christians. Briercrest is a Christian school. You have to take Bible courses there. In it's early days it was called Briercrest Baptist School and met in a number of Baptist Churches. If you were not a Christian reading this book, here is what you would learn about Christians: they are white, rich, anti-gay, and take their football very seriously. It is very important that they are the top school academically and athletically. Christians are winners.

Christian schools are so big in Tennessee that when Briercrest met Evangelical Christian school for the state championship it was called the Jesus Bowl and Lewis comments that "Jesus was keeping his distance". There was profanity, and fighting and all the "kick butt" attitudes you would expect at any big time football game.

Lewis was not writing a "Christian" book; he was telling a good story. I was thinking, however, about that comment. Our Christianity can become so enmeshed in our cultural preferences that Jesus does keep his distance. How much of what we profess to be "Christian" is really not at all. It is just people doing what they want to do, and because they are "Christian" they believe God is blessing what they do, and Jesus is in it.

When Jesus came into our world, there were no bright lights except for one star and the "glory of the Lord shining all around" when the angels showed up. The audience was some miserably poor losers who worked the fields as shepherds. Jesus took his first breath in a smelly stable. His parents could not afford better accommodations. His followers have come a long way since then, haven't they? But, is that what he wanted?

A couple other thoughts: The Blind Side is about the side of the quarter back that is vulnerable because he is facing the other way. For a right handed QB that is his left side. NFL pass rushers are so big, fast and vicious that one hit from the blind side can put a QB away for the season. So, the big powerful man who plays left tackle and is responsible for protecting his QB's blind side is pretty important and gets paid big bucks. Often, he is the highest paid player on the team! So colleges with big time football programs as well as NFL teams are looking for big, quick, and tough offensive linemen. Sometimes, these prime players only stay in college a couple of years before they enter the Pro draft. Isn't it time we recognize big time college football programs for what they are: the minor leagues of the NFL. Colleges are making big money off these talented kids and paying them nothing ( a full scholarship is far, far below their worth to these schools). Many big time college football programs graduate 50% or less of their football players. They are not there for their education. Football generates enormous income for these schools. How else could the University of Florida pay their football coach 4 million a year! It's about time these colleges paid their big time performers to play instead of using their talents to make other people rich.

Michael Oher's story is inspiring. The Tuohy family deserves a lot of credit for all they did for him. But, as Lewis points out, Michael wondered if they would have done it if they found him in a ditch and his only future prospects were flipping hamburgs at McDonalds. The NCAA investigated the Tuohy family for that reason. Why were they giving Michael so much? Was it so he would go to Ole Miss which was their alma mater and of which they were big boosters. It happens. The world of sports brings out the best and worst in people. Oher's high school coach used Michael to get himself an assistant coaching job at Ole Miss. Michael nicknamed him "the snake".

Michael needed so much. He was so far behind after spending nine years in the Memphis public schools. He was basically homeless. How many other Michaels are there? And who is going to advocate for them especially if they do not hold the promising athletic future Michael did?

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