kottke.org posts about The Blind Side

Michael Oher draftedApr 27 2009

Michael Oher, the subject of Michael Lewis' The Blind Side, got drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Oher was chosen 23rd.

Update: Lewis comments on the draft here and here. (via unlikely words)

Michael Oher, the subject of Michael Lewis'Jan 13 2008

Michael Oher, the subject of Michael Lewis' book, The Blind Side, is undecided about declaring for the NFL draft after his junior year.

Oher was named to the all-Southeastern Conference first team after the season and is considered one of the top offensive linemen prospects in the country. He has already shown the promise scouts predicted when he was a homeless 16-year-old who didn't know how to play football.

Meanwhile, the movie adaptation of The Blind Side is proceeding...word on the street is that Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and George Clooney are interested in starring.

Update: Oher declared for the draft. (thx, michael)

Update: On second thought, Oher reconsidered and is remaining at Ole Miss for another year. (thx, michael)

Due to problems off the field, defensiveApr 25 2007

Due to problems off the field, defensive tackle Walter Thomas hasn't played a lot of college ball. But his stats -- 6-foot-5, 370 pounds, XXXXXXL jersey, runs the 40 in 4.9, can do backflips and handsprings, benches 475 pounds -- guarantee that he'll be drafted into the NFL this weekend. Shades of Michael Oher, Michael Lewis' subject in The Blind Side. Also, this may be the first NY Times article to use the phrase "dadgum Russian gymnast".

Long audio interview with Michael Lewis byJan 26 2007

Long audio interview with Michael Lewis by economist Russ Roberts on "the hidden economics of baseball and football". "Michael Lewis talks about the economics of sports -- the financial and decision-making side of baseball and football -- using the insights from his bestselling books on baseball and football: Moneyball and The Blind Side. Along the way he discusses the implications of Moneyball for the movie business and other industries, the peculiar ways that Moneyball influenced the strategies of baseball teams, the corruption of college football, and the challenge and tragedy of kids who live on the streets with little education or prospects for success."

The NY Times Book Review's 100 notable booksNov 25 2006

The NY Times Book Review's 100 notable books of 2006. Making the list are several kottke.org notable books: The Ghost Map, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Consider the Lobster, and The Blind Side.

Robert Birnbaum interviews Michael Lewis about The Blind Side.Oct 27 2006

Robert Birnbaum interviews Michael Lewis about The Blind Side.

The Blind SideOct 10 2006

The Blind Side

In addition to the race and class aspect that interests me about the book, The Blind Side is, oh, by the way, also about the sport of football, specifically the left tackle position. In the 1980s, the quarterback became increasingly important in the offensive scheme and rushing linebackers, specifically Lawrence Taylor, became a bigger part of the defensive scheme. This created a problem for the offensive line: protect the valuable & fragile quarterback from the huge, fast likes of Lawrence Taylor, whose Joe Theismann-leg-snapping exploits you've seen replayed on a thousand SportsCenters. The solution to this problem was to hire giant-handed men the size of houses who move like ballerinas to protect the blind side of the quarterback. Thus has the left tackle position become the second-highest paid position in the league behind the quarterbacks themselves.

When I read Lewis' profile of Michael Oher in the New York Times, I had a crazy thought: why not cut to the chase and make the men fit to play the left tackle position into quarterbacks instead? Lewis covers this briefly near the end of the book in relating the story of Jonathan Ogden, left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens:

Now the highest paid player on the field, Ogden was doing his job so well and so effortlessly that he had time to wonder how hard it would be for him to do some of the other less highly paid jobs. At the end of that 2000 season, en route to their Super Bowl victory, the Ravens played in the AFC Championship game. Ogden watched the Ravens' tight end, Shannon Sharpe, catch a pass and run 96 yards for a touchdown. Ravens center Jeff Mitchell told The Sporting News that as Sharpe raced into the end zone, Ogden had turned to him and said, "I could have made that play. If they had thrown that ball to me, I would have done the same thing."

Having sized up the star receivers, Ogden looked around and noticed that the quarterbacks he was protecting were...rather ordinary. Here he was, leaving them all the time in the world to throw the ball, and they still weren't doing it very well. They kept getting fired! Even after they'd won the Super Bowl, the Ravens got rid of their quarterback, Trent Dilfer, and gone looking for a better one. What was wrong with these people? Ogden didn't go so far as to suggest that he should play quarterback, but he came as close as any lineman ever had to the heretical thought.

Many of the left tackles that Lewis talks about in the book can run faster than most quarterbacks, they can throw the ball just as far or farther (as a high school sophomore, Michael Oher could stand at the fifty-yard line and toss footballs through the goalposts), possess great athletic touch and finesse, have the intellect to run an offense, move better than most QBs, know the offense and defense as well as the QB, are taller than the average QB (and therefore has better field vision over the line), and presumably, at 320-360 pounds, are harder to tackle and intimidate than a normal QB. Sounds like a good idea to me.

The Blind Side: The MovieOct 03 2006

Variety is reporting that the movie rights for Michael Lewis' The Blind Side have been purchased by Fox. Most of the article is behind a paywall, but here's the relevant bit:

After interest from multiple buyers, which included New Line and Mandalay, the "Blind Side" deal closed for $200,000 against $1.5 million and also includes $250,000 in deferred compensation. Gil Netter will produce for Fox, which did not confirm the value of the deal.

Norton released the book yesterday, but Hollywood interest was sparked when the New York Times Magazine ran an excerpt in its Sept. 24 issue.

Story, which was titled "The Ballad of Big Mike," centered on Michael Oher, a poor, undereducated 344-pound African-American teenager in Memphis, whose father was murdered and whose mother was a crack addict. Oher had been shuffled through the public school system, despite his 0.6 grade point average and missing weeks of classes each year. But his tremendous size and quickness attracted the interest of a wealthy white couple who took him in and groomed him both athletically and academically to become one of the top high school football prospects in the country.

I'm hoping against hope that if the movie ever gets made, the interesting class and racial issues the book raises aren't completely steamrollered out of the story in favor of pure uplifting entertainment. (thx, jen)

Eyes on the PrizeOct 03 2006

I posted a link to this earlier, but after watching the first two hours earlier this evening, I must strongly caution against missing Eyes on the Prize on PBS this month. Using nothing more than archival film footage, on-camera interviews, period music, and a narrator's voiceover, the stories of Emmitt Till, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the desegregation of southern schools riveted me to the couch like few viewing experiences have. As compelling as the history of the civil rights movement in America is, the production of the film deserves some of the credit for its power. To hear the stories of these momentous events told by the participants themselves, without embellishment, is quite extraordinary. From a media perspective, watching Eyes on the Prize gives me hope that we can survive the era of the crescendoing musical scores and 20-cuts-per-minute editing and still tell powerful, engaging stories without worrying about window dressing. I won't soon forget the calm determination in the look and voice of Moses Wright or Mississippi governor Ross Barnett thundering away about segregation.

(For me, Eyes is also a nice companion piece to my twin obsessions of late, The Wire and The Blind Side, both of which deal with contemporary race relations in their own way. The PBS web site for the film lists dozens of resources for further exploration of the topic...does anyone have any specific recommendations for books about the civil rights movement? Lemme know.)

Update: Thanks for the recommendations, everyone...I posted a listing of them here.

Lengthy radio interview with Michael Lewis aboutSep 29 2006

Lengthy radio interview with Michael Lewis about The Blind Side. Available in RealAudio and MP3 formats. (thx, steve)

More on Big MikeSep 25 2006

Over the weekend, my thoughts kept returning to Michael Lewis' story about Michael Oher, a former homeless kid who may soon be headed for a sizeable NFL paycheck. Checking around online for reaction reveals a wide range of responses to the story. Uplifting sports story was the most common reaction, while others found it disturbing (my initial reaction), with one or two folks even accusing Lewis and the Times of overt racism. While Lewis left the story intentionally open-ended (that is, he didn't attempt to present any explicit lessons in the text itself), I believe he meant for us to find the story disturbing (or at least thought-provoking).

Just look at the way Lewis tells Oher's story. Oher is never directly quoted; it's unclear if he was even interviewed for this piece (although it's possible he was for another part of the book). Instead he is spoken about and for by his coaches, teachers, and new family...and as much as the article focuses on him, we don't get a sense of who Oher really is or what he wants out of life. (An exception is the great "put him on the bus" story near the end.) He's playing football, was adopted by a rich, white family, graduated from high school, and is attending college, but all that was decided for him and we never learn what Oher wants. Religion is referred to as a driving factor in his adopted family's efforts to help him. Again, no choice there...not even his family or school had any say in the matter, God told them they *had* to save this kid.

Then there's the sports angle, the parallels between Oher's lack of control over his own life and how professional athletes, many from poor economic backgrounds, are treated by their respective teams, leagues, owners, and fans. At one point, Lewis compares Oher's lack of enthusiasm for football's aggression to that of Ferdinand the Bull, a veiled reference to the perception of the professional athlete as an animal whose worth is measured in how big, strong, and fast he is.

So what you've got is a story about rich white people from the American South using religion to justify taking a potentially valuable black man from his natural environment and deciding the course of his life for him. Sound familiar? Perhaps I'm being a little melodramatic, but this can't just be an accident on Lewis' part. As I see it, Oher is Lewis' "blank slate" in a parable of contemporary America, a one-dimensional character representing black America who is, depending on your perspective, either manipulated, exploited, or saved by white America. Not that it's bad that Oher has a home, an education, and a family who obviously cares about him, but does the outcome justify the means? And could Oher even have contributed significantly to his direction in life when all this was happening? Who are we to meddle in another person's life so completely? Conversely, who are we to stand idly by when there are people who need help and we have the means to help them?

I'm not saying Lewis' story has any of the answers to these questions, but I would suggest that in a country where racial differences still matter and the economic gap between the rich and poor is growing, this is more than just an uplifting sports story.

The Ballad of Big Mike, the mostSep 23 2006

The Ballad of Big Mike, the most intriguing story of a future NFL left tackle you're likely to read. The piece is adapted from Michael Lewis' upcoming book on football, The Blind Side. Lewis previously wrote Moneyball.

Update: Gladwell has read The Blind Side and loved it. "The Blind Side is as insightful and moving a meditation on class inequality in America as I have ever read."

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