Kohl 1 Chris Kohl Dr.

Erin Dietel-McLaughlin WR13300 - Multimedia Writing and Rhetoric 5 October 2012 A Life Change, a Site Change Although undesired, the NFL in recent years has gained the image of being a league full of convicts. Stories of shootings, strip clubs, drugs, steroids, and DUIs are commonly associated with players in the league today. In a technological era where athletes are continually under a spotlight and rumors spread at the speed of light, news of athletes’ transgressions are spread around the world instantaneously. Through a great deal of hard work and time only a handful of players have been fortunate enough to recover from their shattered images. Perhaps, a prime example of this is a quarterback who did something unimaginably horrible. In mid-July 2007, news stations around the country sent reporters down to Michael Vick’s house in Atlanta, Georgia. Televisions and computer screens everywhere broadcasted information about the brutality of the quarterback’s “Bad Newz Kennels,” a felony dog fighting ring set up and funded by Vick and two others. Eventually, Vick was convicted of the felony, released by the Falcons, and spent twenty-one months in prison. The fines and humanitarian aid he was forced to surrender left the once multi-millionaire quarterback legally bankrupt. Simply put Vick’s reputation was destroyed. After serving his sentence, Vick knew he had to do anything he could to rebuild a new image. He hired a PR staff of his own and under restrictions was allowed to re-enter the NFL. To prove he was a changed man, Vick led many community service events at schools, became a key figure in animal activist organizations, and changed his overall demeanor on and off the

Kohl 2 field. However, one of his greatest rhetorical strategies to re-strengthen his image may have gone relatively unnoticed. Vick used his website, www.MikeVick.com, as a tool to help erase his once “bad boy” reputation and replace it with an image of a mature, level-headed, teamcentered NFL quarterback. In order to understand how Vick used his site as a rhetorical device to change his image, it is first necessary to understand that Vicks site in itself if a rhetorical text. In “An Overview of Rhetoric” James A. Herrick defines rhetoric as “the systematic study and intentional practice of effective symbolic expression” (7). By this definition, rhetoric expands far beyond the borders of speeches and written texts, and consequently includes websites like Vick’s which uses a great deal of symbolism to suede viewers’ impressions about Vick. Furthermore, Vick’s site includes all of the Herrick’s characteristics of a rhetorical discourse. Namely, Vicks site is, “(1) planned, (2) adapted to an audience, (3) shaped by human motives, (4) responsive to a situation, and (5) persuasion seeking” (8-9). Moreover, in “The Rhetorical Situation” it also becomes evident that Lloyd F. Bitzer would, indeed, hold that Vick’s website response was an example of rhetorical discourse. He asserts that discourse must stem from exigence, or in his words, “an imperfection marked by urgency” (6). In Vick’s case the exigence was his shattered image after his conviction, and the alterations to his site were one of his responses to this exigence. This essay will evidence Vick’s rhetorical response to the exigence of his image crisis by contrasting his website before and after his jail sentence. Specifically, this essay will compare the photos, structure, and content of the website in 2006 to his that of his site today. The changes to each of these facets of his webpage will highlight Vick’s overall rhetorical response to his shattered reputation.

Kohl 3 The first rhetorical ploy Vick used in his site was an overall change in imagery. In his old site, Vick highlights his untouchable attitude by posing in pictures with his chin held high, while cavalierly staring at the camera. Consequently, the imagery conveys Vick’s self importance. In addition, Vick exemplifies his bad boy persona through the cloths he wears. In his homepage pictures, he wears a great deal of accessories including head bands with endorsement logos, thick gold chains, and backwards hats. It is important to note that many of these articles of clothing are regarded by many as showy or gaudy. Consequently, fact Vick wears them in his homepage illustrates the fact that he enjoys bringing attention upon himself. All in all, the imagery of Vick’s old site certainly conveys a sense of Vick’s self pride to the reader. The imagery on Vick’s new site portrays a much different person. The first photo a viewer sees on the new site is not of Vick posing off the field, but rather a photograph of him playing on the field in uniform. Additionally, the majority of the other photos on the page now include his team’s logo. These two key modifications serve to display that Vick is now more focused on his team and less on himself, thereby giving the viewer the impression that Vick has finally become a team player. Furthermore, the tone of Vick’s photographs are much different in the new site. His facial expressions give the internet surfer the sense that he is more contemplative and subdued. In many of the photos he actually looks down away from the camera, a feature which makes Vick seem almost repentive. Vick uses this as a rhetorical symbol to show that he, both as a person and as a player, has begun to calm down and mature. Another significant change in the imagery in the new site is the clothing Vick wears in his off-field photos. According to the Wikibooks.org article “Rhetoric and Composition/ Rhetorical Analysis” rhetorical ethos “encompasses a large number of different things which can include

Kohl 4 what a person wears.” Therefore, the clothing changes Vick makes in his new site are in fact a rhetorical response to the exigence that faced him. In his new site, his clothes are much more toned down and resemble the clothing a more mature individual would wear. Specifically, he no longer wears all the extras he wore in his old site. His clothing in general is much more subdued, and, most noticeably, he swaps out the gold chain necklace in his old site with a rosary beads in the new site. Vick’s subdued clothing symbolizes the fact that he too has become more subdued, and his use of the rosary beads is especially important because it shows the viewer how he has now become more in touch with his faith. This show of faith is extremely appealing to many in a country where a large portion of the population worship some type of deity, thereby allowing Vick to connect with a wider audience. This is key, because as Herrick states audience is one of the criteria all rhetoric must encompass. To summarize, the imagery on Vick’s new site is more appealing to a greater part of the American population, and serves as a useful rhetorical symbol to show that he has changed as a person. In addition to the images on the page, Vick also used drastic alterations to the structure of his site as a means to install his new image. To understand how the structure of a site is rhetorical it is important to remember that website designers structure their site with purpose. Links that are most accessible tend to be the links that the owner of the site most wants the page viewer to select, because he or she may feel those links best represent their intentions. In the case of the structure of Vick’s old site, a page viewer first sees all of the links to Vick’s accomplishments on the field, as well and links to photo galleries and highlight films of Vick himself. Moreover, Vick’s fan page is the largest link on the right side of the page. In other words, all of the most obvious and accessible links on the page are centered solely on Vick, while other links including those about his work with the community hide in the periphery. All

Kohl 5 in all, the structure of the page emphasizes the fact that Vick believes his individual play on the field and his personal life are more important than all else. Conversely, today a web surfer on MichealVick.com will notice that the structure of Vick’s site today is glaringly different from that of before his conviction. The first link a surfer sees on the site is a simple picture of Vick playing for his team, once again highlighting the fact that he is now a team player. Unlike the old site, the surfer is no longer barraged with links to highlights and more pictures of Vick on the homepage, rather equivalent links are buried deep down as a user scrolls through the page. Scrolling down just a little reveals just three main links. The link on one side leads to Vick’s informative biography about his fall from stardom, on the other side stands a link that summarizes Vick’s career on the field, and centered in the page is a link titled “Giving Back.” This last link leads to a full page summarizing Vicks two charities and other charitable works he has done since leaving prison. The fact Vick stresses this “Giving Back” link by centering it on his homepage shows the viewer how he now stresses community work to an extent he never dared to in the past. By doing so, Vick communicates that his

priorities have changed, and that he has matured to the point where he understands that he must compensate for the evil he had done in the past. Furthermore, many today look highly on those who do charitable works and devote their time, and through stressing community work Vick, himself, gains respect from his audience. All in all, Vick uses the rhetorical strategy of a simple change in structure in his webpage to show that he now emphasizes new aspects in his life. In general, these aspects appeal to a broader audience, and give people the sense that Vick is a reformed individual. The last, and possibly most important, change Vick made to his webpage was the alteration of the content of his webpage. The content of his page today differs drastically from

Kohl 6 the content of his site before prison. The 2006 site gives the reader the impression that Vick is extremely egotistical and self-centered. A surfer entering Vick’s site would first be introduced with a rap song and video clip focusing solely on Vick and his talents on the football field. Perhaps the most striking lyric in this short song reads, “Gotta play for the seven, call him Mike Vick.” It is important to note that the song does not read play with “the seven” rather it reads, “for the seven,” giving the page viewer the impression that Vick believes he is by far the most important member of his team. Moreover the home page prominently displays the MV7, or Mike Vick #7, fan club on the right center of his homepage. Under the fan club display it reads:
“Team Vick takes you behind-the-scenes for exclusive access that only the official fan club can provide! As a member of Mike's Official Fan Club, you become part of Mike's inner circle. You'll get inside information from Mike and people close to him to find out more about his career, personal and more.”

Diction including “exclusive,” “inner circle,” and “inside information” give the internet surfer the sense that this fan club is solely for Vick’s loyal followers and not for the simple casual football fan. A fan who joins the club will be able to chat with Vick online with other club members, but, first one must buy not just the silver membership but the gold membership plan. The fact Vick forces people to pay him just to talk makes him seem extremely arrogant, and gives the fans the impression that he is too self centered to give up his time for free. Furthermore, Vick also displays very conceited nicknames on his homepage. In the center console of the page the words “Superman,” “Mr. Electric,” and “Houdini in Cleats” appear. Although Vick may have not given himself these nicknames, the fact he includes them on his main page certainly dictates that he accepts all three. Consequently, the reader, is lead to conclude that Vick fully idolizes both himself and his overall football skill. All in all, the

Kohl 7 content of Vick’s old webpage, certainly gives the casual football fan the impression that Vick is a bit cocky, and undoubtedly arrogant. In order to change his image, the content of Vick’s new site includes very few similarities to that of the old site. As a whole, the content focuses less on his image of himself, and allows surfers to make their own conclusions about the quarterback. Vick swaps out the link to his fan club with links to social media sites including his twitter and Facebook accounts. Now any fan can follow his twitter account or like his Facebook page without paying a penny. This certainly makes Vick seem more approachable. Furthermore, Vick’s new site includes a short biography of his life since being convicted of his crimes. The biography itself was written by a third party writer, Will Leitch, which gives the article more legitimacy than an identical article written by Vick. To a viewer, the third party writer the article may seem less biased, giving the reader the impression that the article is true to who Vick actually is with those around him. In the article itself, Leitch both stresses many of the service projects Vick has partaken in since being released from jail, and also analyzes who Vick now is as a person. When reading the article most will gain the sense that those around Vick feel he has changed and matured. The last real major content change of Vick’s page was the excision of his nicknames from the center console and the incorporation of actual stats and figures about his career. Rather than displaying nicknames, Vick now lets his own stats speak for his level of football skill and allows the fans to interpret this information. In other words, he no longer needs to sound arrogant to prove he is a talented player. All in all, Each of these content changes were made for the specific purpose of reforming Vick’s image after prison. While the content of the old page gives a reader of Vick’s old arrogance, the content of the new page displays how Vick has moved on and become less consumed with himself.

Kohl 8 Although there is much evidence to support the fact that Vick altered the site for the singular purpose of changing his image after jail, some may raise the objection that his site would have undergone many of the same changes if he was never convicted of a felony. For example, some may believe Vick and consequently his website would have matured and transformed through his own natural aging and maturation process. This may seem somewhat plausible, however it is important to point out that the site remained almost exactly the same until Vick was convicted. The alterations Vick made to the site did not begin before Vick attended prison, rather all of them were made after leaving prison. As a result, one must conclude that Vick’s natural maturation process would not have lead him to make these site changes, rather the alterations must have been made in direct response to the exigence that was Vick’s conviction. In conclusion, Vick utilized his website as a very important rhetorical tool to regain society’s respect after his conviction. To do so, he was forced to make alterations to his site that showed he had abandoned his once rebellious “bad boy” lifestyle and matured into a veteran NFL quarterback. His old site fostered the “bad boy,” self-centered persona through cocky images, a structure that stressed Vick’s self-importance, and content that belabored Vick’s football skill. Today, the site includes subdued images of Vick, a structure that emphasizes Vick’s stress on community work, and content that no longer focuses on Vick’s perception of himself, but rather gives viewers the ability to make their own judgments about the quarterback. Each of these changes were made solely for the rhetorical purpose of creating a site that is more appealing to a broader audience, in the hopes of regaining the society’s respect. As a whole, Vick’s example displays how technology can both hasten certain stars fall from glory, and assist others in escaping societal death resulting from horrible transgressions like Vick’s.

Kohl 9 Works Cited Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 1.1 (1968): 1-14. Print. Herrick, James A. The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001. Print. Internet Archive. Wayback Machine. n.p. n.d. Web. 22 September 2012. MikeVick.com. V7 LLC, n.d. Web. 22 September 2012. Wikibooks. Rhetoric and Composition. Wikimedia, 26 Jan. 2012. Web. 22 September 2012.

Kohl 10 Vick’s Site on 27 January 2006:

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