Streaming Friday on Disney+ is “Safety,” an original film based on the true story of Clemson University football player, Ray McElrathbey. A freshman on the team, Ray must find a way to keep his scholarship and his spot on the team, while caring for his younger brother.
“Safety” opens in 2006 with Ray (Jay Reeves) beginning his first year on a full scholarship at Clemson University, preparing to earn his spot on the team. As the workload of school and football starts to overwhelm him, he discovers his mother has gone to a rehab center, leaving no one to care for his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson). With the help of his coaches and teammates, Ray must find a way to stay in school while keeping his family together.
This movie was surprisingly fun watch. Despite the heavy premise of the story, there is a lot more joy in the film than melancholy. To start with, the film sets the time of the story with liberal use of slide phones and mid-2000’s hip hop and R&B. Jay Reeves as Ray could easily come off as a boring martyr or a selfish jock, but he strikes a good balance between playing caring older brother and the teenager overwhelmed by the upsets in his life. Thaddeus J. Mixson is angsty and hilarious as Fahmarr without the usual cringeiness that comes from child actors.
Inspirational sports movies usually drip with inspirational speeches, but this one is blessedly light on monologues and clunky bonding moments. Even more unique, “Safety” does not hinge on a high stakes game or season, but on the actual lives of athletes, meaning the movie trades in manufactured tension for actual character development.
Despite these omissions, “Safety” manages to somewhat honestly deal with the realities of addiction recovery, foster care and the outsized expectations placed on student athletes. The modern myth of a person rising from poverty through sports often stops when the athlete gets a scholarship or a championship. This film addresses how low-income high school athletes who rely on support networks of coaches, teachers and community members struggle when they reach a college environment that expects them to earn their keep without adequate resources.
“Safety” is a refreshing and fun sports film, and I recommend it as a fun family watch this season.