by Nick Ratliff
Based on the true story of college football player Ray McElrathbey (Jay Reeves), “Safety” is a story of determination, persistence and the importance of family. The real-life Ray is an inspiring example of a student-athlete, and this film depicts this well.
The film begins with Ray, a freshman attending Clemson University, being recruited as a safety to the Clemson football team, the Tigers. Early on, Ray struggles to balance his time between academics, sports, and his social life, which concerns his coach Brad Simmons (James Badge Dale). As he struggles to manage his time, Ray is not able to keep in contact with his family back home, putting a strain on those relationships as well.
To make matters worse, soon after he leaves home, his family is torn apart, and Ray is forced to choose between sending his little brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson) into foster care or taking care of him himself. Not wanting to abandon his brother, Ray reluctantly decides to have his brother secretly live with him in his dorm room against university rules, catapulting the film’s story into motion. His decision strengthens his relationship with Fahmarr, but this new living situation means that Ray struggles even more to keep up with football and his schoolwork.
This film gives an honest picture of how hard the life of a student-athlete can be. At the beginning of the film, the Clemson Training Camp takes a toll on Ray. The combination of academics and football, let alone any sport, takes a toll on both the mind and body. Add caring for your younger brother to the list, and you have a potentially disastrous combination, something that becomes clear when Ray misses a crucial test.
Fundamentally, Ray values family over football, forming the crux of the movie’s conflict. Ray misses out on traveling with the team because he has to stay and take care of his brother. However, through persistent effort, he gradually learns to better balance his responsibilities. This is a good life example with a valuable message: Family matters most and is worth the effort it takes to keep it together.
However, all of Ray’s plans start to fall apart when his coaches find out that his brother has been living with him against the rules. At first, the coaches feel betrayed because, regardless of his noble intentions, Ray broke the rules. From this, we learn another valuable lesson: Even though you might think you’re doing the right thing, not everyone will see it that way. Ray is eventually forced to put his brother into foster care, something that leaves both of them deeply saddened.
Throughout the film, Ray develops friendships with many people, and it is at this point in the movie that we begin to see the fruit of those friendships. When Ray is being reprimanded for what he did, his roommate jumps in and takes the punishment with him. Shortly after, his other teammates see Ray being forced to do extra sprints as punishment, and the ones who helped him hide his brother jump in on the sprints as well. This is another life lesson that I was taught growing up: If you help someone break rules, you should take the punishment as well.
Admiring Ray’s determination, Coach Brad Simmons decides to help Ray get his brother out of foster care by renting them both an apartment to live in. Throughout the movie, many people at Clemson come to Ray’s aid, demonstrating the importance of helping those who need it. While this movie shows us the Clemson community specifically, we can broaden our perspective. The essence of what it means to be a family goes beyond being blood-related; it’s about a brotherly love for one another that is expressed in meaningful action.
With the responsibility of supporting his brother and himself no longer overwhelming him, Ray can focus more on both football and school. Thanks to the newfound support of the community around him, Ray’s performance on the field improves, and he finally gets the chance to play on the football squad, something his whole team celebrates. This is the message at the heart of the film’s story: If you persevere to achieve your goals, there is little that can stop you.
In many ways, this movie reminds me of Cedarville’s community. When Ray’s friends offer to take his little brother in, his girlfriend Kaycee (Corinne Foxx) remarks, “Everyone here is family.” Throughout the movie, we see a tight-knit camaraderie developing between Ray and his teammates that makes them willing to sacrifice for Ray and his brother. Here at Cedarville, most people welcome us in with open arms. After the first few weeks, most people have a community of their own willing to support and encourage them just like Ray’s teammates do for him.
Near the end of the film, Ray is faced with the decision again to choose between football and his brother when he comes under investigation for violating NCAA rules. As a rule, universities and their faculty are not supposed to give student-athletes special benefits or favors in order to prevent them from bribing athletes to come to their schools. When this obstacle presents itself, Ray initially pushes his friends and family away; his tendency to push those closest to him away is one of his most consistent characteristics throughout the film.
Then, in one of the most heartfelt scenes in the film, Ray decides to have his mom (Amanda Warren) sign over parental rights to him so that he can take his brother fully under his care. As she does this, both characters are in tears, because doing so makes Ray’s future on the team even less likely.
All this leads into the film’s emotional climax. At Ray’s NCAA hearing, his entire team as well as his coaches come to support him. After a long hearing, the NCAA arbitrators finally decide to allow Ray to keep playing football while also receiving support to take care of his brother. Overall, this is a very inspiring film about the importance of kindness, helping others, and having a community to support you. If you’re just willing to reach out, those who care about you, your true family, will support you when you need it most. Ray’s Clemson family supported him when he needed them to, and, if you’re just willing to reach out, your true family will come to support you in your own time of need.
“Safety” is now streaming on Disney+.
Nick Ratliff is a sophomore business management major. He enjoys playing volleyball, basketball and video games.