All Research

Safety: History vs. Hollywood


Jay Reeves
Born: June 25, 1994
Newark, New Jersey, USA

Ramon "Ray Ray" McElrathbey
Born: September 26, 1986
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA

Thaddeus J. Mixson

Fahmarr McElrathbey
Born: abt 1995
Birthplace: USA

Amanda Warren
Born: July 17, 1982
Coquille, Oregon, USA

Tonya McElrathbey
Birthplace: USA

Matthew Glave
Born: August 19, 1963
Saginaw, Michigan, USA

Coach Tommy Bowden
Born: July 10, 1954
Birthplace: Birmingham, Alabama, USA

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

When did the true story take place?

The Safety true story took place in 2006, when Ramon "Ray Ray" McElrathbey was a 19-year-old redshirt freshman (academic sophomore) at Clemson University. At the time, he was a special teams player on scholarship, and like in the Disney+ movie, he ended up taking temporary custody of his 11-year-old brother, Fahmarr McElrathbey. In real life, Ray Ray had six other siblings. He considered having his 16-year-old brother, Cornelius, stay with him as well, but he knew that taking care of one of his siblings would be an enormous challenge (The New York Times).

Was the Safety movie shot on campus at Clemson University?

Some of Disney's Safety was shot during halftime at a September 2019 football game at Clemson Memorial Stadium, nicknamed "Death Valley." The scenes recreated Clemson's 54-6 victory over Florida Atlantic University in 2006. Other scenes were filmed around campus and at the Jervey Athletic Center.

Did Ray Ray McElrathbey take custody of his younger brother because their mother was an addict?

Yes. In the summer of 2006, Ray Ray's younger brother, Fahmarr, was living in Las Vegas with their mother, who was on the verge of coming back to Atlanta and entering rehab for drug addiction. Their father had been dealing with gambling problems and was not in the picture. Fahmarr came to visit Ray Ray at Clemson and asked if he could stay. If Ray Ray said no, he knew that his younger brother would end up in foster care, so he decided to let him stay. "I didn't want Fahmarr going through any of that any more," Ray Ray told The New York Times. "And when he came to visit me over the summer, he didn't want to go back home. And I didn't want him to." Ray Ray became Fahmarr's legal guardian prior to the start of the season. -The Clemson Insider

Brothers Fahmarr and Ray Ray McElrathbey in real life (left) and in the Disney+ movie (right). Instagram

Did he really try to conceal his younger brother's presence on campus?

No, at least not like in the film. At first, Fahmarr was just visiting from Las Vegas, where he had been living with their mother, so there was no reason to hide him. It's true that like in the Disney Safety movie, Ray Ray didn't tell a lot of people about Fahmarr during the first few weeks after deciding to let him stay, which also meant that he didn't have a lot of help. They ended up living in an apartment just off campus (Forbes). "It was just being alone for the most part in my decision, that was the toughest part," says Ray Ray (The Clemson Insider).

How hard did things get for the real Ray Ray McElrathbey as he tried to care for his brother?

McElrathbey told the Daily News that there were days he thought would never end. "When things got overwhelming, I would question why I decided to do this, because it was a choice I made, as opposed to something I had to do. But I prayed about it, and there were plenty of times I cried in the dark and I hoped for days like this one, where I have the opportunity to talk about something as great as a Disney movie made in my likeness."

Is Ray Ray's love interest in the movie, Kaycee, based on a real person?

No. The real Ray Ray McElrathbey says that there wasn't a steady love interest in real life. A fact check reveals that the movie character Kaycee (Corinne Foxx) is fictional. This is one of the biggest differences between the movie and the Safety true story. Also, while Kaycee, a student reporter, is the one who breaks the story in the movie, it was actually sportswriter Larry Williams of Charleston's Post and Courier newspaper who wrote the story that spread nationally.

Corinne Foxx's character, Kaycee, is not based on a real person.

Were Ray Ray and Fahmarr McElrathbey featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show?

The story of Ray Ray McElrathbey taking custody of his 11-year-old brother, Fahmarr, became national news in mid-August 2006. Not only were they the subject of newspaper articles across the country, Ray Ray was ABC News' Person of the Week and he and his younger brother were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. It was this national attention that provoked an outpouring of help from the community and beyond. People around the country wrote letters of encouragement and sent money. "It shows that humans out there care about other people and not just themselves," Ray Ray told the Times.

Ray Ray McElrathbey and his younger brother, Fahmarr, are interviewed on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007.

Was it really against NCAA rules for Ray Ray to accept help from the community?

Yes. Once Ray Ray McElrathbey's secret was out in the open and everyone knew that his little brother was staying with him on campus, life became easier. However, things got hard again when he learned that as an NCAA athlete, he wasn't allowed to accept assistance from the community. He says that the NCAA initially suspended him for accepting help (People).

Eventually, the NCAA granted Ray Ray an exception that permitted him to accept a certain amount of help from the community and the Clemson football program. The university set up a trust fund for Ray Ray's younger brother, Fahmarr, which helped with basic necessities like food, clothing and medical care. It also helped to pay for child care when Ray Ray was traveling with the team. Various members of the community, including the coaches' wives, offered to drive Fahmarr to and from a local school, help with homework, and assist with extracurricular activities. -The Clemson Insider

Did Ray Ray McElrathbey's teammates help him?

Yes. "Eventually, everyone was allowed to help, and my teammates were always there," McElrathbey said in a news conference. "They were always guys I could count on, and so, even through the tougher times, I had people I could lean on. And that was God's gift, I guess."

Is Ray Ray's roommate in the movie, Daniel, based on a real person?

No, at least not directly. We found no evidence of a third-string kicker named Daniel Morelli playing for the Clemson Tigers. Hunter Sansone's character is mostly fictional. According to the real Ray Ray McElrathbey, Daniel is an amalgamation of the players who helped him. "Oh, well no," he told Esquire when asked if Daniel is real, "but the people were composites of individuals. Now, while I didn't have an Italian roommate, my roommate spoke to the character that that gentleman was."

Actor Hunter Sansone as the fictional character Daniel Morelli in Disney's Safety movie.

How much did Ray Ray play at Clemson?

Initially redshirted in 2005 for his freshman year, Ray Ray eventually played on special teams the following season, as well as the position of safety. He made his debut in the season opener against Florida Atlantic on September 3, 2006. He played in 12 games and had a total of eight tackles (Forbes). His playing career at Clemson was cut short prior to the 2007 season when he switched to running back and tore his ACL during training camp, which required surgery. Taking care of his younger brother and focusing on his studies became his primary concern. He graduated in three years, earning a sociology degree along with a minor in communications in 2008. Though he was still eligible to play, the Clemson Tigers did not renew his scholarship (Forbes). While he was angry at the time, he has since made peace with it.

What did Ray Ray McElrathbey do after graduating from Clemson?

After Ray Ray McElrathbey graduated from South Carolina's Clemson University in 2008, he spent the next year-and-a-half taking graduate courses at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in pursuit of a degree in communications. He participated in his last college football game in 2010, playing for Mars Hill College in the mountains of North Carolina outside of Asheville.

Ray Ray then moved to Los Angeles where he worked mainly in public service. He worked for a homeless outreach program and on a number of political campaigns, phone banking and going door-to-door. He has also been employed as a security guard at nightclubs and runs his own business as a personal trainer. He has since moved back to Atlanta, has a son, and hopes to one day work for Clemson University.

As for his younger brother, Fahmarr McElrathbey, he was employed by a packaging and shipping company in Los Angeles but has recently moved back to Clemson, South Carolina. 25 years old at the time of the release of Disney's Safety movie, Fahmarr also hopes to find a job at the university. -The Greenville News

Ray Ray and Fahmarr McElrathbey in 2020, the year of the movie's release. Photo: Disney+

Was the real Ray Ray McElrathbey involved in the making of the Safety movie?

Yes. The real Ray Ray McElrathbey was a consultant on the Disney+ film and was a regular presence on the set. He spent a great deal of time with actor Jay Reeves, who portrays him in Disney's Safety. The two worked out together to help Reeves get in shape for the role. "He's a great actor," says McElrathbey. "He's learning my dialect and speech patterns and all that, and it's weird to have somebody study you to portray, but also humbling." McElrathbey even got to review cuts of the film.

Actor Jay Reeves is a former high school football star in Los Angeles, playing slot receiver and free safety.

Does the real Ray Ray McElrathbey have a cameo in Disney's Safety movie?

Yes. He has a cameo as a player on the football team named Raheem. The character is not based on a real person but was instead named after McElrathbey's father. -Daily News

Ray Ray McElrathbey Interviews & Related Videos

Further explore the true story behind Safety by watching Oprah interview Ray Ray McElrathbey and his brother Fahmarr. Also, view the Disney+ movie's trailer.