“Safety”: The True Story of a Former Clemson Athlete

Parts of the film, including the gametime scenes, were shot on Clemson’s campus. (Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios)

Through America’s athletic system, sponsors and billions of dollars are put into high level sports like basketball and football. Even at the collegiate level football teams are bringing in millions of revenue annually from season tickets, merchandising and advertising.

Should college athletes be paid? A simple question for sure, but when people go into debates about this, these factors are pulled from every direction to support their side.

The NCAA was founded in 1906 and it took a century for a case to side with supporting a player for financial reasons. This is the story of Clemson freshman football player Ray McElrathbey.

In 2006, McElrathbey was going to be a crucial piece on Clemson’s football team, playing the position of safety. He was poised to show his talents at the highest level. His home life had collided with his academic and athletic life because during this time, his mother was in and out of rehab.

Knowing this, Ray realized that he had to make an important decision for his younger brother Fahmar; who at the time was 11 years old. Ray decided to not allow his brother to go to a group home while their mother was recovering from rehab and instead would bring his brother to school with him; and at first this was only known by the two brothers and a handful of players.

In the beginning, Ray would have Fahmar live in his room with him and their other roommate who would assist in taking care of Fahmar. From basic needs such as food to even playing video games with him, Ray balanced this, school and a fulfilment to his football team.

Fast forward to three weeks of hiding Fahmar from everyone on campus; they go back to Atlanta to check on their mom’s rehabilitation. When their mother states that she will forgeo a longer time in recovery, Ray decides to go even further with the dedication to his brother.

Ray officially becomes Fahmar’s legal guardian and now has stepped into a whole other level of responsibility.

“It felt like Christmas, weight lifted, I have been in the foster care system before, they didn’t care for me, and it was just real love when my brother did this,” exclaimed Fahmar.

When the coaching staff eventually discovered what Ray was hiding, instead of kicking him off the team they helped him. Setting him up with an apartment near campus, Ray would have to now balance school, working part time to pay for the apartment, football and taking care of his brother.
Ray was not alone when it came to raising Fahmar, his teammates truly stepped up.

“Anthony Waters was my biggest influence; he was a senior on the team, he embraced me as a brother, took me out to eat, know me more, bonded like crazy, and my first big impact was Dwayne Coleman, Reggie Merriweather, we would hang out play video games, they all just embraced me” Fahmar said.

For Fahmar, he had dealt with the humble beginnings of living in the downtown area of Atlanta, Georgia. When he had moved in with his brother Ray and lived on a college campus he was ecstatic.

“More comfort, not worried about the adult figure in my life, a major difference from home.”

When the news of their story broke out, the NCAA would pursue Ray with the full magnitude of their power and strict guidelines regarding the Student-Athlete code of conduct.

With the support of not just the team and coaches but millions around the country the brothers fought this in court and had won their case. Making Ray McElrathbey the first ever student athlete to be recognized by the NCAA to receive financial support for his brother.

Years after Ray graduated from college, their story would be picked up to become a best selling book and from there Disney would announce the production of a film adaption.

“My first thoughts were so insane, happy, excited I kind of cried, I had to take it in, we got the contract, we signed it and got to go on sets with great people and great actors in the movie” Fahmar said.

Fahmar and Ray wanted to say that while family can be anyone, it takes a village to raise a child.