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Sports Section Rhetoric

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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

The New York Times recently ran a three day feature on the life of Derek Boogaard, a hockey enforcer who died of an overdose of painkillers in May of this year. I recently used the trio of articles with great success in my AP® class to discuss the rhetorical nature of the pieces. The conversation we had in class was wonderful. We talked about the evidence John Branch uses to support his argument of policy and value – the way he establishes the ritual nature of the game early on in the first article became a touchstone in the conversation.

Branch powerfully presents the idea that adult authority figures in any given organization hold the power very often gained through the establishment of ritual. Derek, already in love with skating and hockey from the early age of five, learned the dance associated with the fight that he knew would be his only ticket to the NHL since he wasn’t possessed of enough skill on goals to make it. Branch, by establishing the ritual nature of the game in North American hockey leagues, effectively supports his indictment of the NHL in the care of Derek Boogaard as he approached his final days.

The written component of the assignment is listed below. Hopefully your students have access to the “replica edition” which is a reader that allows you to see the original layout. If not, you can still get a pretty good idea of the impact online. The original layout in the paper was unlike anything else I’ve ever seen: each article began on the front page of the Sports Section. The top half of the page was primarily white space with a very small photo of Derek at age two on the first day, Derek at age 27 on the second day, and Derek’s brain on the third day, with the headline and text of the articles beginning on the bottom half of the page. The layout itself had tremendous rhetorical impact, and this aspect was a big part of our conversation as well.

Read "Punched Out: Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer," three part series by John Branch, Dec. 4, 5, 6, published in The New York Times. Please use the replica edition that our class is subscribed to. (This will help you to answer the first 2 questions.)

THINK ABOUT rhetorical effectiveness of the series of articles. Write several sentences in your notebook to describe/discuss each of the following features:

1. How each article looks on the page.
2. Visuals that accompany the articles.
3. Facts presented. (This component needs a., b., c. sections to cover the 3 different articles, several sentences for each.)
4. Is this series straight news? Or does it take a position (implied? direct?) on the issues? If so, is it an argument of fact, value, or policy? Or a combination? (This question must be min. 2 complete, developed paragraphs that address this question with specific support for your answer.)

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