Carolina Panthers

Next step for Michael Oher’s NFL career should be clear, shouldn’t blind side anyone

Panthers' Michael Oher still in concussion protocol, but team has a plan

Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman talks about Michael Oher and his extended stay in the concussion protocol. Gettleman says the team has a plan.
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Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman talks about Michael Oher and his extended stay in the concussion protocol. Gettleman says the team has a plan.

Viewers can find “The Blind Side” on cable seemingly any day of the week on any channel.

The movie about Michael Oher’s rise from the streets of Memphis to one of the nation’s most sought-out offensive tackles was on twice Sunday on (oddly) MTV – at 12:30 in the morning and 5 in the evening.

Oher’s story has broad appeal. When my kids come across “The Blind Side” while channel surfing, they’ll stop and watch it.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Oher’s time in Charlotte will not conclude with a Hollywood ending.

The latest development in what has been a rough, nine-month stretch for the Carolina Panthers’ tackle came Thursday evening when Oher posted an Instagram photo of 10 prescription pill bottles with the caption: “All for the brain smh (shaking my head).”

The picture was quickly taken down, but not before Oher gave the world another startling glimpse of the NFL’s concussion problem.

The Panthers felt moved to respond through their in-house media. General manager Dave Gettleman said he flew to Nashville on May 5 to visit Oher, who followed up with Gettleman for a few days after the lunch meeting before the communication stopped.

“Our No. 1 priority is a healthy Michael Oher,” Gettleman said. “This is not about football, this is about Michael.”

If that’s the case, the Panthers and the NFL need to exhaust their resources and energies ensuring Oher receives the best medical care that’s available. The Panthers also should be prepared to pay Oher a generous injury settlement.

To still be dealing with symptoms nine months after his concussion – as Michael Oher’s Instagram photo suggested – should be all the evidence he needs to begin focusing on his post-football life.

In November, Oher visited the highly regarded concussion clinic at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. That consultation came nearly two months after Oher first experienced post-concussion symptoms.

Oher, 31, told the Panthers’ training staff about his symptoms before a Week 4 game at Atlanta. A source told the Observer last fall that Oher had headaches after a Week 2 win against San Francisco, but he tried to play through them.

Oher had his worst game in two seasons with Carolina the following week against Minnesota. Several days later he was placed in the league’s concussion protocol.

The Observer reported in November that Oher was experiencing sensitivity to light, along with issues involving his vision, movement and balance.

Were his symptoms worse because he’d played the Vikings’ game a week after sustaining an apparent concussion? There’s plenty of research to indicate that was probably the case.

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It seems pretty clear Michael Oher’s football career is over, or should be. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

For all the steps the NFL and players union have taken to identify and treat concussions, there are still players such as Oher, Tom Brady (allegedly) and plenty of others who would rather try to play through brain injuries than report them to trainers or coaches.

Players and former players say the culture is changing, but it remains a slow process.

The hows and whys of Oher’s initial injury are not as important as Oher’s life moving forward.

If Michael Oher chose to retire, he’d walk away from the roughly $14.5 million left on his deal. So that’s not going to happen.

To still be dealing with symptoms nine months after his concussion – as Oher’s Instagram photo suggested – should be all the evidence he needs to begin focusing on his post-football life.

Oher’s also been dealing with issues unrelated to his health. He’s due in court in July after he allegedly assaulted an Uber driver in Nashville during an early-morning altercation in April.

No one could have foreseen any of Oher’s problems a year ago.

The Panthers, coming off the second Super Bowl berth in franchise history, awarded Oher with a three-year, $21.6 million contract extension last June after he started every game at left tackle during their Super Bowl season.

A year later Oher is in Nashville, apparently incommunicado, while his teammates prepare for this week’s mandatory minicamp.

An ex-Panthers player, who likes and respects Oher, last week called the entire situation “sad.”

Of course, there’s also a financial piece that’s a part of the picture.

Both sides seem like they’ve already begun moving on.

If Oher chose to retire, he’d walk away from the roughly $14.5 million left on his deal. So that’s not going to happen.

If the Panthers cut Oher, he would likely qualify for the maximum $1.1 million to $1.2 million per year (over the final three years of his contract) under the injury protection benefit in the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

The Panthers also would save about $4.5 million against the salary cap, although that should be a secondary concern.

Both sides seem like they’ve already begun moving on.

The Panthers signed free agent Matt Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million deal to play left tackle – a monster contract that dwarfed Oher’s and did not sit well with Oher, according to a source.

Gettleman also drafted Western Michigan’s Taylor Moton in the second round to compete with Daryl Williams at right tackle.

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The Panthers, coming off the second Super Bowl berth in franchise history, awarded Michael Oher with a three-year, $21.6 million contract extension last June after he started every game at left tackle during their Super Bowl season. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Oher has a strong support system that includes the Tuohys, the Memphis family that adopted Oher when he was moving in and out of foster homes as a teen-ager. He blossomed at Briarcrest Christian, becoming one of the top offensive line recruits in the country.

He went on to earn All-American honors at Mississippi and was a first-round draft pick by Baltimore. He's played eight NFL seasons, won a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens and collected about $32 million in career earnings.

Oher has accomplished a lot in football. Now it's time for him to focus on his health with an eye on his life after football.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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