Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The King's Dream, Part Three

Michael Lewis has written one of my favorite all-time books, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. I call it a favorite, not because of my affinity for the subject of the book -- the Oakland Athletics baseball team -- but my appreciation for the model Billy Beane and company have installed in building their organization. The success of the A's model has been had to argue against, especially in the last ten years. Their success as as small-market franchise in game marred by fiscal inequities has been incredible.

Lewis has become intrigued, it seems, with sports stories that unearth deeper issues of culture and society. He's done it again in The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game as he reveals why the left tackle on the offensive line has become, in today's NFL, the second most significant position on the field -- second only to the quarterback.

Lewis's story is not solely the evolution of a game as he tells the gripping story of Michael Oher. I confess as I share the following review that I have not read the book (I've read several different reviews, including an extensive one in Reader's Digest, and heard an extensive interview of Lewis on Jim Rome's show). The following words from Mike Cope capture the essence of the story...and the essence of the King's Dream:

"It’s the story of Memphis — a city with an invisible Berlin Wall between white and black. Lewis talks about the Christian academies that sprang up quickly with forced integration so wealthy white children wouldn’t have to go to school with black children. He talks about the pilgrimage east — as far away from the problems of West Memphis as possible.

But this story is specifically told through one young man: Michael Oher. He was a child who seemed to have no hope.
He was one of ten children of a crack cocaine-addicted mother. At times they had no shelter. When asked what he remembers about his first years of life, Michael says: “Going for days having to drink water to get full. Going to other people’s houses and asking for something to eat. Sleeping outside. The mosquitoes.”
For a few years they lived in Hurt Village — a community of about 1000 with no — count them, ZERO — two-parent families. Seventy-five percent of the adults there had some mental illness. Drug lords waited with crack in hand at the first of the month when welfare checks arrived in the mail.

By the time he was 15, Michael Oher hadn’t been to school much. He’d been tested, and his IQ came out to be 80.

But all that changed. I’ll leave the details for you to enjoy the book. But the short story is this: he fell victim to the love and nurture of one wealthy, white family in East Memphis. Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy (a former basketball player and a former cheerleader at Ole Miss) welcomed him into their family. He suddenly had a family, including a sister his age and a younger brother. He had a school to attend — Briarcrest Christian School. He had clothes and food. His IQ rose from 80 to 110.

Whether you’re a football fan or not, you’ll love the chapters on the recruiting of Michael Oher. Every college coach in the country began salivating when he saw tapes of Oher treating large opponents as if they weren’t there. In one game Briarcrest played, every offensive play consisted of giving the ball to the running back and telling him to stay behind Oher until he heard a whistle. They destroyed their opponent on that one play.

This is a hard book because of the despair. You realize that most people in the Hurt Villages of our inner cities don’t have a Tuohy family to help them.

But it’s also an inspiring read because this one family — this one white, wealthy, Evangelical family — brought a monstrous kid into their lives before anyone knew he had athletic super-talent. He was lost, and Leigh Anne Tuohy was going to care for him."