“The NCAA is corrupt. We know that. Sorry, it’s going to make headlines, but it's corrupt.”
--LeBron James, Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2018

Photo: Michael Ensminger
As the Roman Empire had its gladiators, Circus Maximus, staged public trials and executions, and fake news/propaganda, so, too, does the so-called "U.S. Empire"1 have the same, for the purposes of distraction and division of the masses.

In the world of college football, an industry in which major conference schools earn tens of millions of dollars each season in television revenues, the wheels are greased by treating athletic recruits as slaves who, for the most part, forego their education to devote the majority of their time to the success of a university's athletic team performances.2

“Hey, I see a bunch of old white men gettin’ rich off the unpaid labor of young men, the majority of whom happen to be African-American.  If that doesn’t remind you of 'Gone With the Wind,' I don’t know what does.” --Claire Torrance, student-athlete academic advisor in Sanctions

In return, the schools overlook their recruits' criminal transgressions—assault, theft, rape, academic cheating, etc.—to keep their cash cows on the field.

Dee Covington as Claire and Thony Mena as Ronald
Dee Covington as Claire
and Thony Mena as Ronald
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In Curious Theatre Company's regional premiere of Bruce Graham's Sanctions, we see all of this from inside the tutoring program for athletes at a perennial collegiate football power, "The Cats," based (in part) on events that happened at Penn State (although, as we were reminded this past week at Ohio State, the issues—academic and sex scandals—are prevalent at most football powers). All the action on stage (design by Markas Henry) takes place underneath a large digital video screen, where back-to-back clips of plays (design by Brian Freeland) feature junior high school, high school, and college prospects.

Ilaiea Gray as Tonya and Thony Mena as Ronald
Ilaiea Gray as Tonya
and Thony Mena as Ronald
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Ronald (Thony Mena) represents The Cats athletic department, and interfaces with the tutoring program run by Claire (Dee Covington). Claire assigns a new student tutor, Abby (Adeline Mann) to help one of the team's star players keep his average above 2.0 (that is, a "D"). Tonya (Ilasiea Gray), who serves as head of the Education Department, is not happy with Claire's professional behavior, which has come to include encouraging her tutors to provide written papers and test answers for the athletes, as well as with Claire's personal behavior, which includes a drinking problem related to her husband's arrest for public indecency over a homosexual act, which precipitated their divorce.

Claire's dramatic arc drives the through line, as her position erodes from trying to maintain a tutoring program with integrity, to being more flexible, then to enabling cheating, and finally to revealing the details of the scandal and its repercussions on those involved on the inside and on the periphery. Covington seamlessly transforms each radical transition into a series of emotionally natural choices.

Adeline Mann as Abby
Adeline Mann as Abby
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Ronald's unwavering empowerment, as he shields the athletic program from scrutiny, enabled by a corrupt judicial system that places the local economy—which depends on the success of the football team—outside of any moral touchstones, stands in high contrast to Claire's emotional vicissitudes. Mena imbues Ronald with all the confidence and swagger that make such programs tick.

Claire and Ronald clash over a sexual assault on Abby committed by the football star she tutors and another player, as the playwright deftly ties together major television revenues with rape culture and political corruption. Smooth work by Mann in capturing Abby's transformation from a naive underclassman uninterested in sports to a savvy game player who withholds information and gets a raise.

Meanwhile, Gray is a firecracker as the irrepressible Tonya, keeping the pressure on Claire and Ronald, though she only succeeds in snaring a little fish while the big fish get away scot free. Thus, we come full circle with college football as a metaphor for society: clearly, the biggest criminals who run the system are never prosecuted; the law is only applied to the masses, to keep them enslaved.

Curious Theatre Company's regional premiere of Bruce Graham's i>Sanctions, directed by Chip Walton, runs through June 15th. For tickets:

Bob Bows

1 According to various peer-reviewed studies of the planetary power structure (including the ownership of the key central banks), the governments of the U.S., U.K., France, Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc. are nothing more than public sector subsidiaries of the Anglo-Euro-American banking cartel.
2 Only 1.6% of college football players get drafted into the NFL.

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