A Chat with Michael Oher – How He Broke the Cycle of Homelessness to Become an NFL Champion

By Jennifer Holmes

Success leaves clues whether it’s football, business or life.  As you may know, Lliam and I go to Nashville each quarter to an industry association conference to share best practices and learn from champions from different backgrounds and industries. So when we had the chance to chat with NFL champion Michael Oher – whose childhood was portrayed in the movie The Blind Side, and is now an offensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers –  we took notes and listened carefully.

Michael grew up homeless most of his childhood in Memphis, Tenn. He saw the constant pattern of drugs, violence and homelessness and was determined to break that cycle for himself.  He did that by staying positive and working to go to school and playing football.

Michael was a great speaker and what struck me most was his absolute humility and gentleness.  He spoke softly and kindly as a gentle giant.  When asked about his experience winning the 2013 Super Bowl XLVII, he said smiling excitedly ear-to-ear, “It was the Super Bowl!” In fact, he said, “Every time I walk on a football field in the NFL, I pinch myself. It’s such an honor to be on an NFL field and get to play.”  Michael was asked to share his playbook or keys to becoming so successful. In his words:

Technique is important. Everyone on that field is talented and experienced so one of the ways I focus is technique.  I’m always working on drills and the fundamentals to ensure that my techniques are the best they can be – so that I can stay sharp.

Outwork the competition. Again, everybody that we are competing with is highly skilled and talented so the way to get the edge is to focus on hard work and practice every single day.  You have to want it and work hard for it each and every day.  I practice constantly because I know outworking or outperforming the competition is one edge I have. If I don’t outwork the competition, I could be blindsided.

Be humble. I’m playing with some of the most gifted people on the field so one key for me is to be humble and realize there is always someone at my back and on my heels trying to catch up and overtake me.  I never, ever forget that – there is always someone behind me trying to catch up so I believe recognizing that and staying humble is important.  And I’m always competing against myself to make a better me – I never stop.

In closing remarks, we asked Michael why he thought he was one of the ones that made it out of the cycle and what his purpose was.  Michael said he got very lucky and he feels his mission is to inspire others by sharing his story to have hope that they too can break cycles of homelessness, drugs and poverty.  He likes to think that his journey and commitment to hard work can be an example to others of how they, too, can become champions and successful in their lives. Michael generously donates his time and resources to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to inspire others and share his story. In fact, the speaker fee for this conference was $50,000 and Michael asked that his entire fee be donated to St. Jude.

What a fine gentlemen, servant-leader and champion he is. It was truly inspiring and an honor to hear his story and experience his passion for inspiring others.

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