The Ballad of Big Mike

Note: My computer is back, and I have been busy reinstalling programs that were lost. Got to love technology, but I am happy to be playing catch-up now.

Fortunately, several readers have sent me posts or post ideas during my absence. This fantastic story was sent to me by the excellent police blogger Raindog.


Michael Oher's story is so much more than simply being drafted in the first round of this year's NFL draft. He and the people in his life reveal an inspiring story of hope and overcoming obstacles that few can match.

A favorite author of mine, Michael Lewis,(Moneyball) released the book Blind Side: Evolution of the Game in 2006 describing Oher's life up to college. A movie starring Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw that is based on the book is scheduled for theaters in late 2009.

Also in 2006, Lewis wrote a condensed version of Oher's tale entitled "The Ballad of Big Mike" for the New York Times Magazine .*

Here is an excerpt:

...In his first nine years of school, Michael Oher was enrolled in 11 different institutions, and that included a gap of 18 months, around age 10, when he apparently did not attend school at all. Either that or the public schools were so indifferent to his presence that they neglected to register it formally.

Not that Oher actually showed up at the schools where he was enrolled. Even when he received credit for attending, he was sensationally absent: 46 days of a single term of his first-grade year, for instance. His first first-grade year, that is; Michael Oher repeated first grade. He repeated second grade, too.

And yet the school system presented these early years as the most accomplished of his academic career. They claimed that right through the fourth grade he was performing at “grade level.” How could they know when, according to these transcripts, he hadn’t even attended the third grade?

Simpson, who had spent 30-plus years in area public schools, including 29 in Memphis, knew what everyone who had even a brief brush with the Memphis public schools knew: they passed kids up to the next grade because they found it too much trouble to flunk them. They functioned as an assembly line churning out products never meant to be market-tested.

At several schools, Michael Oher had been given F’s in reading his first term and C’s the second term, which allowed him to finish the school year with D’s — they were giving him grades just to get rid of him. And get rid of him they did: seldom did the child return to the school that passed him. The year before Simpson got his file, Michael Oher passed ninth grade at a high school called Westwood.

According to his transcripts, he missed 50 days of school that year. Fifty days! At Briarcrest, the rule was that if a student misses 15 days of any class, he has to repeat the class no matter his grade. And yet Westwood had given Michael Oher just enough D’s to move him along.

Even when you threw in the B in world geography, clearly a gift from the Westwood basketball coach who taught the class, the grade-point average the student would bring with him to Briarcrest began with a zero: 0.6.

If there was a less promising academic record, Simpson hadn’t seen it. Simpson guessed, rightly, that the Briarcrest Christian School hadn’t seen anything like Michael Oher either.

Simpson and others in the Briarcrest community would eventually learn that Michael’s father had been shot and killed and tossed off a bridge, that his mother was addicted to crack cocaine and that his life experience was so narrow that he might as well have spent his first 16 years inside a closet. And yet here was his application, in the summer of 2002, courtesy of the Briarcrest football coach, Hugh Freeze, who offered with it this wildly implausible story: Big Mike, as he was called, was essentially homeless and so had made an art of sleeping on whatever floor the ghetto would provide for him.

He crashed for a stretch on the floor of an inner-city character named Tony Henderson, who at nearly 400 pounds himself was known simply as Big Tony. Big Tony’s mom had died and as her dying wish asked Tony to enroll his son Steven Payne at a “Christian school.” Big Tony had figured that as long as he was taking Steven, he might as well take Big Mike, too...
I enjoy Lewis' style--humorous, yet able to effectively hammer points.

Oher's story illustrates the need for much more than simply throwing money at problems, but by becoming directly involved in the lives of the "Big Mikes" or "Little Annes," we can recognize the value of each child.

I realize that becoming involved does not guarantee a happy ending, but I certainly recognize the chances for success when no one offers help.

The full article on Oher can be read here.

*Note: the picture is from the NY Times article and was evidently provided by his adoptive family.


Bob said...

Wow... you do keep busy!