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September 24, 2006 4:50 AM   Subscribe

The Ballad of Big Mike. “Where are you going?” he asked. “To basketball practice,” Michael said. “Michael, you don’t have basketball practice,” Sean said. “I know,” the boy said. “But they got heat there.” Sean didn’t understand that one. “It’s nice and warm in that gym,” the boy said. As they drove off, Sean looked over and saw tears streaming down Leigh Anne’s face. And he thought, Uh-oh, my wife’s about to take over. ... “One night it wasn’t going so well, and I got frustrated,” Mitchell says, “and he said to me, ‘Miss Sue, you have to remember I’ve only been going to school for two years.”’
posted by caddis (40 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
For those with todays NYTimes magazine, check out the bottom picture on page 43, where he's bearing down on the qb that is completely dwarfed by his size. It belongs with those "somebody is about to die" pictures you see on some sites.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:22 AM on September 24, 2006


I am embarrassed for the NYTimes. The article presents it as a success story while describing how they gamed the system with 1 week garbage credits substituting for real high school classes. It is great the kid climbed out of a deep hole. It is sad that it was largely by being helped by a bunch sport fan enablers pushing him to game the system and even worse that they are being lauded for it. Character credits indeed.
posted by srboisvert at 5:32 AM on September 24, 2006


Thanks caddis - that was a great story. I found it to be much more uplifting than, say, punks tagging their girlfriends...
posted by daniel9223 at 5:50 AM on September 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


That broke my heart, the thought of a child being that left behind. However I have to agree that the whole BYU cheap grades deal was disconcerting, to say the least. Thanks caddis, I'll be following Michael Oher's career now. (I just wish he'd signed with UF).
posted by hollygoheavy at 6:02 AM on September 24, 2006


I hate the gaming of the system, too, but as long as we pretend that college athletes are scholars, the system is ripe for this kind of action. This kid could have a decent life. Good for the people who did it.I hope he manages to get more education.
posted by etaoin at 6:10 AM on September 24, 2006


I found it to be much more uplifting than, say, punks tagging their girlfriends...

You find lying and cheating uplifting? Those girls that got tagged had to have volunteered for it. Do you suppose the kids that couldn't get scholarship rides because they didn't have utterly bogus BYU course credits to boost their GPAs agreed to get bumped by a cheater? This isn't even affirmative action. It is outright open glorification of cheating as if it were a virtue. If thats what passes for values in Christian and Morman religions these days I am even more glad I am atheist.

You say uplifting. I say appalling.

I considered posting this yesterday because I was so shocked by the story having a positive spin.
posted by srboisvert at 6:38 AM on September 24, 2006


It crashed Firefox on my Macbook. Anyone else get this to happen?
posted by docpops at 7:03 AM on September 24, 2006


I'm torn on this one. On one hand, if there exists anyone who deserves a big helping hand up the ladder, this kid surely is in the running.

That said, as a parent who, along with my son, has had to scrape, beg, save and, finally, assume a large amount of personal debt in order to get him through freaking technical school, the actions described in the story piss me off immensely. College sports are a highly-focused illustration of the fucked-up values our culture has developed.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:33 AM on September 24, 2006


I see no problem with what they did. The purpose of these rules is to prevent kids from giving up on school and just playing ball prior to entering college. Mike worked his ass off academically for two years, going from functionally illiterate to honor roll. You can talk technicalities if you want, but they played within the rules and if any kid showed academic excellence it is Mike. The right result was reached. I would be curious to see whether he has maintained his academics in college though.
posted by caddis at 7:43 AM on September 24, 2006


That story was a really good illustration of the fact that intelligence is heavily dependent on nurture - his IQ apparently rose 20-30 points by the end. The bell curvey folks (recent example) should keep that in mind... People need to learn how to learn.

It was also a good reminder of how random and contingent getting help can be - not only the idea that if he hadn't had a special talent, he certainly would not have gotten extra attention, but even that with such a talent, his getting help was completely dependent on chance and individual coincidence. It is depressing to think how many people continue to live in pure survival mode, with no goals or structure to life at all.
posted by mdn at 7:43 AM on September 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


Odd there was no mention of standardized testing. Does Ole Miss not require SAT scores for admission?

Interesting story. Thanks for sharing.
posted by shoepal at 8:00 AM on September 24, 2006


Four hours (four hours!) of free academic coaching a day + a string of fake mail-order courses could get my cat into college.

It's an interesting story and I'm sure Mr Oher is a nice fellow, and I'd certainly rather have him rich than poor, but I still dislike the special attention that sports entertainers are given. Because those people didn't pick the smartest poor kid to help rather than the biggest, the world has ended up with another millionaire arena performer rather than whatever the smart kid might have become and done with a good university education.
posted by pracowity at 8:03 AM on September 24, 2006


Because those people didn't pick the smartest poor kid to help rather than the biggest, the world has ended up with another millionaire arena performer rather than whatever the smart kid might have become and done with a good university education.

Why is being smart more important than entertaining people? You are making the same arbitrary value judgment that you are criticizing others for.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:23 AM on September 24, 2006


It's an interesting story and I'm sure Mr Oher is a nice fellow, and I'd certainly rather have him rich than poor, but I still dislike the special attention that sports entertainers are given.

the generalization that is the second half of that sentence totally takes Michael Oher out of the equation. Michael Oher, a person, was given special attention by people who--given certain other faults--considered themselves without choice when it came to helping a lost young man. they educated him, they loved him as their own, and they set him on a career path that fits his strengths.

there were parts of the story that made me cringe; some of the tossed off comments from many of the adult characters left me aghast. but that little bit about the right tackle needing to shut up, get on the bus, and go home cracked me up. thanks for the nice Sunday read. here's to hoping Michael Oher learns more about life and himself at Ole Miss, and then makes a shitload of money in the NFL.
posted by carsonb at 8:23 AM on September 24, 2006


I can hear Homer chanting, "SPORTS SPORTS SPORTS SPORTS SPORTS SPORTS" as he reads this.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:24 AM on September 24, 2006


Ironmouth, who won last years Nobel Peace Prize in Best New Sitcom?
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:25 AM on September 24, 2006


srboisvert: you say tomato, I say tomato, let's call the whole thing off!

It would be nice if pro sports players could just be what they were and not have to go through the whole academic process to get to play. I don't really have a dog in this fight though.

I did enjoy an article about a kid that didn't have a chance somehow getting one. Sappy, I know, but its Sunday.
posted by daniel9223 at 8:50 AM on September 24, 2006


Why is being smart more important than entertaining people?

If you have to ask...
posted by quite unimportant at 9:23 AM on September 24, 2006


Look, I hate football, but this is in some ways the only chance the kid has in life to do something he's really talented at. Most clever people game the system. At least this time someone with few opportunities finally gets something after a childhood of suffering. I for one liked the story.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:23 AM on September 24, 2006


I see shades of the old high school anti-jock sentiment here. It's better when we don't bother them, and they don't bother us...

Because every one of us knows... who he is, and what the FSM expects him to do.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:23 AM on September 24, 2006


This article was definitely a good sunday morning read. While I have my doubts as to the validity of those BYU credits, you can't dismiss the progress made in Michael's last two years of school. Regardless of the final outcome, he's a better man for it, and was at least knows the power of a loving environment.
posted by furtive at 9:33 AM on September 24, 2006


I thought it was a great read, and I am no giant sports fan here. Sure, I might have liked the story more if it was one of my cultural heroes sponsoring the next Picasso or fostering a great American novelist rather than a fast food mogul finding NFL talent, but that's my cultural bias. At least the kid now has some option besides jail or Iraq.

For me, the main take away was the inspiring story of people throwing a rope to a drowning kid - and how he responded to that help. Good for them, and good for him. I was moved to hear about a desperate kid and how he got salvaged - maybe this story will make other potential "patrons" consider the role they could play in supporting the kids who - through nor fault of their own - have been left by the wayside.

Were some rules stretched? Sure, but let's not pretend rules aren't stretched for the wealthy and privileged every single day - just witness the guy in the white house. I question any system that is so rigid it CAN"T be inclusive of a remarkable and deserving kid who needs a break, whether it be for poverty, physical or mental disabilities, or some other limiting factor not of the kid's making. It's up to all of us as a society to find other channels to make that happen than just sports. Who knows - maybe one among us here at mefi could identify and sponsor a potential Sergey Brin?
posted by madamjujujive at 9:52 AM on September 24, 2006 [3 favorites]


From the last paragraph:
“The Mormons may be going to hell,” Sean says. “But they really are nice people.”

Aside from attitudes like that, I've found this to be a nice hungover Sunday read. Thanks, caddis!
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:29 AM on September 24, 2006


He was illiterate and had a .9 GPA halfway through high school and pulled it above a 2.0 by graduation even without the BYU credits. I say that's pretty remarkable.

And it's not like he's just a football player. You don't make the sort of turnaround he did without having some resiliance. Yeah, being a sports entertainer may one day make his fortune, but you have no idea how he's going to spend it or what good he will accomplish with it.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:41 AM on September 24, 2006


What this story tells me is that America is a foreign country, where it is considered admirable to graduate high school able to read and write.
posted by alloneword at 10:48 AM on September 24, 2006


Am I horribly cynical for suspecting motives other than charity for putting up with this >300lb illiterate black male in your house, like $5 million bucks a year somewhere down the line?
posted by snoktruix at 10:49 AM on September 24, 2006


Ah I'm sure that's bolllocks, on reflection.
posted by snoktruix at 10:54 AM on September 24, 2006


as a non-USian whose sports heroes are mostly high school dropouts who then went on to happy careers in pro sports I think this is the, so to speak, "money quote":
To get into the N.F.L., Michael Oher needed to first get into college
the quote above is the door that leads a nation into a nasty, "He Got Game"-like, ugly, unethical territory
posted by matteo at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2006


It is funny, I am not an non USian but I do a lot of business there - to the extent I take US holidays off and work on Canadian ones, yet every once in a while I realize people in the USA are still foriegn.

I had such a mixture of reactions to this article.

First, its terrible that the school system pushed Michael through when he clearly had no idea what he was doing - I find it strange that in his ten years of schooling not one teacher seemed to divert him into a program that could help.

Second, is there no social safety for children like Michael? Sounds like his sleeping-on-an-air-mattress arrangement was pretty informal.

Third - the sodomy speach from the dean, and the remark about mormons going to hell; seemingly in casual conversation really makes me wonder about the level of religious discourse in the region this story was looking at.
I have to say, I know USians generally take religion more seriously than Canadians (no Canadian has ever blessed me on answering machine message. My USian clients do it regularily) but I didn't realize it was this different. It is strange that the form of Christianity practiced in the rest of the Americas, Europe, and other Christian areas is so different. I worked for a Christian organization once, and can't imagine anyone saying that.

Fourth, Sean and Le-anne own a chain of fast-food restaurants and probably have all kinds of people who fell through the cracks in the system on their payroll (at minimum wage). Part of me does not like the idea that they rescued Michael for his football potential when they are obviously close enough to urban reality to know there are lots of people who need help. I wonder if they have any scholorship opportunities, etc for their employees who are not good football players? I think it is great what they did, and while I don't necessarily like the idea they picked football potential as the virtue they most needed to nurture I imagine they consider their resources limited and can only do so much.

Still, with my above remarks - Michael's situation should have never come this. I am curious though, that if Michael say breaks a leg, and doesn't make the NFL - does he have a front-office waiting in Sean's food outlet business? his BYU credentials seem to be in order
posted by Deep Dish at 11:56 AM on September 24, 2006


shoepal, the ACT is accepted by some schools, particularly in the South. The article mentions that he took the ACT, but did not directly mention his score. That score was the basis for the NCAA stipulating that he needed a 2.65 GPA to go to scollege.
posted by owhydididoit at 12:17 PM on September 24, 2006


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posted by owhydididoit at 12:18 PM on September 24, 2006


Why is being smart more important than entertaining people?

Because it was Roentgen, not Liberace, that discovered X-Rays. And the knowledge of X-Rays save thousands of lives every year.
posted by spazzm at 2:28 PM on September 24, 2006


Liberace was gay.
posted by snoktruix at 4:19 PM on September 24, 2006


is there no social safety for children like Michael? Sounds like his sleeping-on-an-air-mattress arrangement was pretty informal.

The "safety net" for these kids is foster care and, for teens, almost always group homes. Michael was smart to seek more informal shelter.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:19 PM on September 24, 2006


I think it is interesting to note that this article comes from a new book in a series of freakonomics books by Michael Lewis (Michael is the real modern freakonomics author, not Levitt). The emphasis of the book seems to be the freakish situation in which the formerly sleepy position of right tackle becomes the second highest paid position in football, save for the qb, after the likes of Lawrence Taylor changed the game. Oher is the lucky recipient of his physical endowment. Michael is the consumate story teller and here skillfully tells the story of how one family and one boy found each other and saved the boy. It fits into and nicely humanizes his overall story about football economics.
posted by caddis at 6:20 PM on September 24, 2006


How did a kid with such a hardscrabble life, who reportedly skipped many a meal, get to be so physically imposing at such a young age?
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:25 PM on September 24, 2006


How did a kid with such a hardscrabble life, who reportedly skipped many a meal, get to be so physically imposing at such a young age?
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:04 PM on September 24, 2006


crud, the link was supposed to go to:
http://www.metafilter.com/mefi/53851
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:05 PM on September 24, 2006


But this kid wasn't fat, he was muscular and over six feet tall. One would think a poor diet in the formative years wouldn't produce a strapping behemoth.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:21 AM on September 25, 2006


Size is based more on genes than calories.
posted by caddis at 11:43 AM on September 25, 2006


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