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.
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.