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'Blind Side' mom Leigh Anne Tuohy urges Utahns to make a difference

Leigh Anne Tuohy, left, and daughter Collins Tuohy, seen on screen, speak at Utah Valley University on Tuesday.
Leigh Anne Tuohy, left, and daughter Collins Tuohy, seen on screen, speak at Utah Valley University on Tuesday.
Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

OREM — Before Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy intervened, society had deemed Michael Oher worthless.

"This young man was six months from falling through the cracks," Leigh Anne Tuohy told a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday at Utah Valley University. "There was not a single person, not one, in this world that cared whether Michael Oher lived or died, where he slept, what he ate, what he wore or where he went. Not one person."

Not one — until the Tuohys stepped up.

And that snowy day they turned their car around to invite the 6-foot-6, 350-pound black high schooler to their warm, Memphis home, all of their lives changed.

Yet they never imagined that years later they would be watching those changes on the big screen, with Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne, Tim McGraw as Sean and Quinton Aaron as Oher, in "The Blind Side." The film is an Academy Award nominee for best picture, and Bullock is up for the best actress award.

"It snowballed and it snowballed and it snowballed," Leigh Anne Tuohy said. "It's not something we ever thought of, dreamed of, imagined. Right now we're just holding on for dear life."

"The Blind Side" follows the Tuohy family as they adopt the impoverished Oher, tutor him and get him involved in football, where he excels and is eventually drafted by the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, where he now plays offensive tackle.

Some of Oher's tutoring involved BYU's Independent Study courses, which Tuohy told the Deseret News were "integral" to her son being able to get into the NFL when he did.

But Tuohy and her daughter, Collins, said the movie is not just about them; it's a way to share a greater message.

"Someone today you will pass, and in your mind you will place a value on them," Tuohy said. "The problem is, a lot of times we don't know the true value of that person."

She challenged the audience to go out and make a difference because "there are Michael Ohers out there everywhere."

"And don't get me wrong; I love animals and I'm all about taking care of pets," she said, "… but a lot more times we're more concerned about what's happening with animals than we are about the children in this country."

And at that, the crowd spilling out of the Grande Ballroom at UVU burst into applause.

"You learn in life that the people who are your family aren't always the people that are blood related to you," Collins Tuohy said. "To unconditionally love someone is a lot easier than we make it out to be in society. That's part of our story, part of our message."

e-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com