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Safety Movie Review: A Real-Life Story of Football and Family

The poster for Safety, showing a triumphant Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson) on the shoulder of his brother Ray (Jay Reeves) could be considered a spoiler. At least it could be if you did not already know what you are getting when you watch an inspirational sports film. These movies follow a formula, after all.

Safety is based on the real-life story of Clemson football player Ray McElrathbey. Ray’s mother suffers from drug addiction, and while she receives treatment, Ray becomes guardian to his 11-year old brother Fahmarr. Taking care of his little brother has to be juggled alongside Ray’s own full-time student course load and the commitment to his football team. When the community learns about Ray and Fahmarr, they pitch in to help. Unfortunately, the NCAA does not allow student-athletes to accept certain benefits, and the assistance threatens his ability to continue to play for Clemson. Ray has to apply for a special waiver from the NCAA to allow for such simple things as rides to school for Fahmarr.

In real life, Fahmarr was simply visiting his brother at Clemson when it was decided he would stay. There was a bit of subterfuge in keeping that a secret at first, but not quite to the level of hiding Fahmarr in duffle bags just to take him to the bathroom as it was in the movie version of events. This was one of those things the movie changed slightly for dramatic purposes, but one that ultimately took away from the film. The film spends a little too long on the hiding of Fahmarr to build up the tension and showcase Ray’s struggles. The reality of a college athlete taking on the responsibilities of parenting didn’t need such a build-up. The challenges are obvious.

What I enjoyed, and what I would have like to see more of, is the way the community rallied around Ray and Fahmarr. The acceptance of Fahmarr by Ray’s teammates was especially touching. Do not worry that you are getting yet another white savior story with Safety, though. While Ray eventually receives help, he stays at the forefront of the story as the one who ultimately sacrifices and works the hardest to save his family.

You will find surprisingly little sports in this sports-centered movie. There are bits of practices shown here and there, and we only get a few minutes of two actual games, including the climactic Bowden Bowl featured in that spoilery poster. Since I am not much of a sports fan, the limited amount of football did not bother me. I am willing to bet, however, that it will be a point of criticism for those who like a little more sports in their sports films.

I am a total sucker for a movie based on a real-life story that gives you an update in the credits. I honestly would have liked a little more there, but we did get that update I always crave so that is worth sticking around to watch.

Movies that focus on football always seem to have that climactic moment that brings on the tears, and Safety definitely delivers there. As long as you are not a total curmudgeon, you will be moved by Ray and Fahmarr’s story.

Safety is streaming now on Disney+.

About Safety

Rating: PG (Drug Addiction|Thematic Content|Some Language)
Runtime: 122 Minutes

“Safety” is a drama inspired by the empowering story of former Clemson University football safety Ray McElrathbey (Jay Reeves), a young man facing a series of challenging circumstances, whose dedication and persistence help him to triumph over repeated adversities. Aided by his teammates and the Clemson community, he succeeds on the field while simultaneously raising and caring for his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson).

As The Bunny Hops®