Safety is the retelling of former Clemson University football player Ray McElrathbey and his journey with his brother Fahmarr. McElrathbey (played here by Jay Reeves) was a 19-year-old redshirt freshman special teams player when he became the legal guardian for his brother when his mom went into rehab for addiction. This film, while it needed some help of its own, really stands out as a terrific showing of what the Clemson family means to alumni of the school.
I had heard brief things about McElrathbey’s story, but I was unaware of just how much strength he and Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson) had. For Ray to take on school, football, parenting, and the NCAA, all in one year as a freshman in college, is incredibly brave. Trying to find yourself in college is hard. Trying to find yourself, while being a student-athlete and raising your brother is even harder.
One of the biggest questions I’ve gotten as a Clemson alumna is “are people really that nice?”. And the answer I’ve always had for them is yes. Sure are there some failings, yes, but every family has them. Those are even represented slightly by Coach Bowden (Matthew Glave) and Coach Simmons (James Badge Dale) putting the pressure on McElrathbey to protect the team when the NCAA starts to investigate. But ultimately, they and the people surrounding the university choose to step up and support him. And I thought it really worked how they chose to bring it to life.
Safety isn’t without its flaws. Nick Santora’s screenplay follows a similar plot outline to most sports movies. Introduction, issue, success. It struggles immensely during the beginning portion of the “issue” section when Ray hides Fahmarr in his dorm room with his roommate Daniel Morelli (Hunter Sansone). Additionally, it doesn’t always benefit from Reginald Hudlin’s direction. There are some sequences that feel longer than necessary, like Ray not telling people he has his brother in his dorm. Some of the dialogue feels rough, but ultimately, it’s a Disney sports movie plain and simple.
Ultimately, Safety won’t win any awards. But its heartfelt emotion will ring true for many viewers. To see this story brought to film is incredible, and it’s one of the better stories of a sports movie. It takes a village, and sometimes that can be the helping hand you need. It represents the Clemson Family with genuine care, and any alumni will be able to confirm that for you. The story of Ray McElrathbey and his brother Fahmarr is unique in the fact that it’s one of the few times NCAA has shown they do have a heart. And that for one, is worth marking down on film. – Katie Gilstrap
Safety is now streaming on Disney+.
It stars Jay Reeves, Thaddeus J. Mixson, Corinne Foxx, Matthew Glave, and James Badge Dale.