For much of his NFL career, Michael Oher protected the blind side of his quarterback. No one was going to hit his guy without going through Oher first, and few could.
For the past 10 months, though, Oher has been taking hits himself, over and over. The most recent blow to the 31-year-old offensive tackle came Thursday, when the Carolina Panthers released him after he failed a physical.
I feel sorry for Oher. Everyone assumes that he made millions from “The Blind Side” movie based on his life, that he is good buddies with actress Sandra Bullock, and that he isn’t very smart (this assumption based on the oafish portrayal of him in the movie).
In reality, none of those things are true.
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Oher had a Hollywood blockbuster made about him in 2009, but he is about as anti-Hollywood as you can get. The 6-4, 315-pound player was happiest during his time as a Panther when he was totally healthy and completely anonymous, keeping Cam Newton’s jersey clean as the Panthers marched down the field and other players received the glory and scored the touchdowns.
Newton tried hard to recruit Oher to Carolina before the 2015 season, remember. The quarterback had been battered pretty regularly in the pocket in 2014, when the left tackle was Byron Bell. Newton called Oher and said: I don’t just want you. I need you.
Oher, who had just washed out in Tennessee, signed up and came to Charlotte. He was a big part of the Panthers’ 17-2 Super Bowl season, starting all 19 games. That resulted in a fat new contract with Carolina -- three years and $21.6-million (a reported $9.5 million of it guaranteed).
But then came Oher’s concussion last September. And then this big, strong man – like so many before him in the violence-scarred NFL – was undone by his own brain.
“The brain is a scary thing,” Oher tweeted after the news of his release broke on Thursday. “You have to be careful with it.”
Oher never played again for Carolina after Week 3 of last season. He was a seemingly permanent resident of the NFL’s concussion protocol.
In the meantime, the rest of his life did not seem to be going that well, either.
In April, Oher was charged with misdemeanor assault stemming from an altercation with an Uber driver in Nashville over a fare dispute. The police report stated that Oher had been drinking. The matter has yet to be publicly resolved.
In June, Oher posted an Instagram photo of 10 prescription pill bottles with the caption: “All for the brain smh (shaking my head).” He quickly deleted the picture, but not before it circled the Internet.
The Panthers have been sending up smoke signals that they were planning for life without Oher for much of the offseason. They signed Matt Kalil, Ryan’s younger brother, to a staggering five-year, $55.5-million contract to play Oher’s old left tackle position. They drafted Taylor Moton, a right tackle, in the second round for more depth on the offensive line (although Daryl Williams is still considered the likely starter at right tackle). So the actual roster move wasn’t truly one that blindsided anyone the way general manager Dave Gettleman getting fired on Monday did.
Using the stilted language of the NFL, the first sentence of Carolina’s press release announcing Oher’s final moments as a Panther read: “The Carolina Panthers have terminated vested veteran/failed physical offensive tackle Michael Oher, the team announced Thursday.”
Once a terminator himself who slammed defensive ends into the ground, Oher had now been terminated. He will at least be eligible for an injury settlement of some sort. His release saves the Panthers a relatively modest $1.6 million against the salary cap.
Oher had also made news earlier this week for sticking up for Gettleman. Oher said in another Instagram post that he “hated to hear” of Gettleman’s dismissal and that the former GM had been one of the few Panthers officials who had “constantly checked” on how he was doing.
I hope it works out for Oher. His football career may be over – given the injury to his brain, it very possibly should be over.
But as Gettleman always said, “a healthy Michael Oher” is all anyone should want right now. I think Oher can ultimately figure out the rest – as long as the NFL game hasn’t taken too much from him already.
One thing for certain in all this uncertainty: Michael Oher’s life is not an inspirational movie.
It’s real life, complicated and messy. And if there is a happy ending in sight – and I hope there is – it is only a pinprick in the distance.