Out of Memphis and Into the NFL Draft
April 26, 2009, 8:35 pm
Filed under: News, Sports Media


Becoming a successful NFL player is a momentous task, even for top draft picks.  For Aaron Curry and Michael Oher, two of the top 23 picks in the NFL Draft, this challenge pales in comparison to what they’ve had to overcome to make it this far. 

Curry, who was rated the draft’s #1 prospect by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks with the 4th pick.  When his name was announced, he was flanked by Bryson Merriweather, a 12-year-old Leukemia patient whom Curry had met at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, TN.  Bryson was diagnosed with Leukemia when he visited the hospital after falling short of breath at a football game — in other words, football literally saved his life. 

Curry credits football with helping him to emerge from his tough neighborhood and earn a scholarship at Wake Forest.  Based on this kinship, Curry invited Bryson as his guest of honor at the draft.  Earlier this week, they shared a day of fun in New York City.

Michael Oher, a First Team All-America offensive lineman from Ole Miss, was drafted 23rd overall by the Ravens.  Watching the large, gracious young man getting teary-eyed on camera (“I made it to the NFL!”), it’s hard to believe that, just seven years ago, he was homeless. 

Oher’s estranged mother was a crack addict, his father was out of the picture, and Michael bounced between Memphis foster homes for years.  Having failed multiple grades and exhibiting a low IQ, Michael was in danger of becoming a dropout and a statistic.  But, because of his grandmother’s dying wish, Michael made a last-grasp effort to get into the local Briarcrest Christian School.  The school recognized Michael’s athletic potential, but was leery of his academic struggles.  That’s when fate intervened.

Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, whose daughter attended the school, learned of Michael’s story and agreed to take him in.   Armed with his first stable home in years, and given the help of a dedicated tutor, Michael became academically eligible, and earned a scholarship at Ole Miss.  His story is told in “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game,” a book by the brilliant author Michael Lewis.

The generosity of Aaron Curry and the triumph of Michael Oher are two archetypal tales that speak to the transcendent power of sports.  The football gridiron is often filled with strife and conflict, but its gladiators are often capable of showing ample humanity once they escape the field of battle.

“The Blind Side” will soon be made into a major motion picture.  For Michael Oher and Bryson Merriweather, who each hit (and emerged from) rock bottom in Memphis, the Hollywood Ending is already here.


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