Michael Oher, the central character of a Hollywood blockbuster whose inspiring story sees him go from the mean streets of Memphis to an NFL career, is now telling his story – his way.
Oher’s book “I Beat the Odds,” an account that focuses heavily on his early years in some of the poorest stretches of Memphis, will be released next month.
Oher, now an offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, collaborated with author and sports journalist Don Yaeger on the book. He’s returning to the city where he beat the odds to sign copies of his book at Davis-Kidd Booksellers Feb. 16.
His story arguably could not come at a more perfectly timed moment. Across Memphis, broad, community-wide discussions are focused around everything from teen pregnancy to poverty, race and educational opportunities in the inner city, all of them analyzed in the book with straightforward precision by someone who saw them up close.
Before his happy ending, as he puts it in the book, came what he calls a sad story. At times, it’s to the thousands of children who live in foster care that he seems to be speaking to directly.
When Oher was a Memphis City Schools student, he writes that his teachers seemed unconcerned whether he was there. And he felt they passed him on to the next grade so they didn’t have to deal with him anymore.
Other parts of the book are similarly uncomfortable in their depiction of what he had to overcome. He writes of growing up in Hurt Village, a place so depressing to him that he said it could not have been given a more fitting name.
Even the air “smelled dirty,” and he writes it was the kind of place that would depress someone who took a wrong turn and drove through it.
During one period in his life, the future NFL player sold Commercial Appeal newspapers on street corners in Memphis and managed on good days to take home more than $80 – to Oher then, a princely sum.
In one wrenching scene, he describes family meetings one of his brothers used to pull together, where the siblings went over a game plan on what to do if the authorities ever showed up to take them away to foster homes or other protective services. The plan: all of them run in different directions.
“I Beat the Odds” does not dwell entirely on the hard times. Eventually, hope shines through.
Oher ends up at Briarcrest Christian School and finds the love of a family. Briarcrest led to college, which led to the NFL.
After watching the Hollywood story of his life, Oher writes, “I couldn’t understand why so many people around me were sniffling and blowing their noses at the end. I wanted to stand up and say, ‘You realize that was a happy ending, right? I mean, I have a great life, a great family, and I am really thankful for all of the blessings I have been given. Things turned out really good for me – please don’t cry.’”