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‘Ray Ray, Fahmarr, and I stayed in touch for a few years after the piece. I have always been their biggest fan’

As Disney+'s new film Safety streams on Friday, ESPN's Wendi Nix reflects on her 2006 profile of the movie's subjects, former Clemson football player Ray Ray McElrathbey and his brother Fahmarr

Today, Disney+ will debut Safety, a new film inspired by the true story of former Clemson football player Ray Ray McElrathbey, who had success on the field while simultaneously raising and caring for his 11-year-old brother, Fahmarr.

ESPN originally brought this story to a national audience in 2006. Senior writer Gene Wojciechowski wrote about McElrathbey for ESPN.com; legendary ABC Sports voice Keith Jackson narrated a feature; and Wendi Nix, who had just joined ESPN as a reporter that summer, helped make ESPN aware of McElrathbey.

Now the host of College Football Live, Nix reconnected with the former Tigers defensive back this week – 14 years since her original profile of him (watch the 2006 video above).

Below, Nix reminisces with Front Row and talks about why she is happy McElrathbey’s story is being told in this new film.

This was my very first reporting assignment for ESPN. I had done a few live shots and some breaking news, but this was the first feature.

What’s crazy about it is that it remains the most impactful for me. I was lucky enough to hear about the story from a friend in South Carolina. I am a South Carolina native and grew up a Clemson fan, so I called the sports information director, and he assured me it was a great story.

Fourteen years after her first ESPN report on RayRay McElrathbey, Nix conducted an interview with him for College Football Live this week. (ESPN)

I remember pitching it, and College GameDay loved it, but they didn’t know me yet, so they suggested they do the story with another reporter. I made my case, and they let me do it. It was fascinating from start to finish.

What you don’t see is the difficulty we had tracking down Ray Ray’s mom, who was extremely nomadic at the time. But we thought it was important to include her voice.

It wasn’t a perfect situation. We spent almost a week with Ray Ray and the Clemson program and got a real sense of how hard this was to juggle a child, go to class and play football, all with minimal financial resources.

But it was hopeful, and I am thrilled that the story is being told again in movie form and that these two managed to hold it all together. It’s fair to say not every story turns out this way.

Ray Ray, Fahmarr, and I stayed in touch for a few years after the piece. I have always been their biggest fan. It was a privilege to be a footnote in their story.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Visit ESPNPR Vimeo to hear sports broadcasting legend, the late Keith Jackson, narrate McElrathbey’s story in a feature produced in 2006.

How ESPN, Disney And Clemson Collaborated On Safety

How did Disney manage to film scenes for Safety during a 2019 Clemson University football game halftime?

Vice President, Programming & Acquisitions, Stacie McCollum explains: “True to its ‘best is the standard’ mantra, Clemson was an incredible partner throughout the process of making the Disney+ film, Safety. The collaboration with ESPN and ACC Network to recreate plays from an actual game required extensive coordination, and tremendous credit goes to [senior coordinating producer] Steve Ackels and the remote production team for making it happen. Our combined efforts with Disney resulted in successfully shooting four plays in 10 minutes with 100-plus actors and extras during halftime of Clemson’s game against Charlotte on Sept. 21, 2019.

“Clemson fans have witnessed many wins and memorable moments in Death Valley, but Clemson officials will tell you they’ve never heard their fans as loud as they were during the taping. We are proud of our relationship with Clemson and appreciative of its continued support of ESPN, ACC Network and the Walt Disney Company.”

– Amy Ufnowski


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