Monday, May 19, 2008

Michael Jordan, Wikipedia, and Internet Rhetoric

This essay examines three websites, each having to do with Michael Jordan. The strength of the rhetorical situation of each website is determined. It is concluded that Wikipedia has the strongest rhetorical situation of the websites involved in this inquiry.

Rhetoric is all around us. We are constantly being subjected to subtle persuasive arguments. Rhetoric on the internet is becoming extremely prevalent in today’s society. People have the ability to do everything online; they shop, the pay bills, they watch television and listen to music. An increasing amount of academic research is also being done on the internet. It is important to understand which websites use rhetoric effectively. This essay will examine three websites, each of which focuses on superstar Michael Jordan. Each website offers specified information for a particular audience. The first page I will discuss is Michael Jordan’s biographical page on the official NBA website; it covers only information about his basketball career. The second website, The Internet Movie Database, covers his celebrity off the basketball court. Finally I will look at Michael Jordan’s Wikipedia article, which covers nearly all aspects of Michael Jordan’s life. When compared to these other websites, Wikipedia is the website with the most effective rhetoric and the largest potential audience.

The NBA website has strong situated ethos because it is affiliated directly with the NBA. NBA is an acronym for the National Basketball Association. It is a professional basketball league. Michael Jordan is a professional athlete who played basketball in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls and latter for the Washington Wizards. Because we trust that the NBA is an honest organization, we can assume that their official website will provide us with accurate information about its players.

The official NBA website provides statistical information and other essential facts about Michael Jordan’s basketball career. Each and every player who is playing or has ever played in the NBA has their own biography page on the NBA website. The information provided on a player’s biography page includes vital information like age, height and position, also career highlights such as NBA Championships, awards, and other honors. In a section of the page entitled “Career Transactions,” the player’s history is explained, that is, the date when the player was drafted into the league and the teams which he played on during his career. A large percentage of each page is dedicated to a table which depicts a player’s stats and averages. Career totals and season highs are also listed on this page. Again, we can assume this information is all accurate because it comes from a credible source.

The NBA website makes some use of pathos. The color scheme of the website and the official logo for the NBA is red white and blue. These colors appeal to the patriotism of a largely American audience. Michael Jordan’s page has a picture of him making a lay-up. In his signature style, his tongue hangs halfway out of his mouth. A defender tries to stop him and his arms flail out making M.J. look four-armed like the Hindu god Shiva. Michael struggles toward the basket with a look of stern determination on his face. This picture glorifies Michael Jordan and makes us stand in awe of his talent. The rhetorical situation is strengthened by this because the NBA wants its players to be thought of not only as great athletes and role models but even gods. The impressive and accurate statistics and the few inspiring images of Michael Jordan on his NBA bio-page effectively transmit most of the important information an audience looking to research Michael Jordan’s basketball career from a statistical perspective might need.

Certainly basketball statistics are not the only thing that is important about Michael Jordan as a person. On another website, the Internet Movie Database, a website with credible information about actors, movies, television shows and production crew personnel, we find very different kinds of information about the same man. The IMDB website is like a Facebook for celebrities, movies and television shows. The IMDB logo features a movie ticket stub. It is clear that the website is designed for an audience interested in movies and television.

While he is most famous for being an excellent basketball player, Michael Jordan has apparently made his fair share of television appearances, all of which are listed on the IMDB. Mr. Jordan even stared in a feature full-length movie. That movie, Space Jam, is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of any professional athlete. It features Michael Jordan playing himself. He travels to Loony Tune Land to help the Loony Tunes play and win a basketball game so that the Loony Tunes can avoid being enslaved by the evil Mr. Swackhammer and his team of Monstars. The movie was a box office hit and earned thumbs up from both Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. The movie had an impressive soundtrack as well, boasting a breakout hit for R&B superstar R. Kelly. People coming to the IMDB can expect to find this kind of information.

His entry also has basic information like full name, birthday, and birthplace. Unlike the NBA, website which has only a limited selection of pictures, the IMDB site has dozens of them. The pictures are mostly of Michael Jordan playing golf and posing with celebrities like Wayne Gretzky and Bugs Bunny. No pictures of him playing basketball can be found on this website, because the website’s rhetoric is designed to inform the audience about television and movies, not basketball. Towards the bottom of the page, visitors can post on discussion boards filled with celebrity gossip. The website also features a trivia section filled with fun facts about how tall his parents are (both are under 5’ 9”) and how many slam dunk contests he has won (2).

The IMDB has strong ethos. The main page of the website claims that the IMDB has over 57 million movie-loving visitors a month, all presumably satisfied with the quality of information that they found. The site posts breaking news from the entertainment industry, movie trailers and has other media related features. We can assume that all of the information we find on this website is accurate. This kind of information, however, does not seem entirely relevant to Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan is an incredibly recognizable figure in American pop culture, but when most people think about him, they do not think “movie star,” they think “basketball star.” The Website provides only a quick biographical sketch of Michael Jordan’s life as a professional athlete, but has a detailed list of every appearance Michael Jordan has ever made on television shows, talk shows and in movies. It is important to understand that this is the kind of information that the IMDB’s audience should be looking for. The rhetorical situation is effective for its intended audience. Either way, we are again left with an incomplete picture of a person. Michael Jordan has a multidimensional personality that is not limited to him being a celebrity, basketball player or movie actor.

On the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia we find a closer to complete picture of the many aspects that define Michael Jordan as a person. Wikipedia’s credibility has been a controversial issue in the academic world. The basic premise of the website is that it is an open source encyclopedia that anyone can edit and add information to. Opponents of Wikipedia have made the claim that information that comes from Wikipedia will be inaccurate or incomplete. In Michael Jordan’s Wikipedia article, all vital information is exactly the same as the information that can be found on the NBA’s website. As Wikipedia grows and develops, so does its credibility. Toward the bottom of each article on Wikipedia is a list of references. The reference section of Michael Jordan’s article lists 121 cited sources. There are many references from, the ESPN sports network and major publications like Sports Illustrated. Careful citation from credible sources strengthens the ethos of individual Wikipedia articles.

According to the “about” section on the Wikipedia site, it is one of the largest reference websites in the world, with thousands of active contributors working on approximately 9 million articles written in 250 languages. Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales has made the comment that anyone who volunteers to write an encyclopedia for fun, during their own free time, tends usually to be extremely intelligent. At the 2005 TED conference in Oxford, Jimmy Wales reported that Wikipedia is largely edited by a close-knit group of 600-1000 full-time editors. He says that they are the smartest people he has ever met. We should not take this compliment lightly; Jimmy Wales is a fellow of Harvard and is well respected in high academic circles. These 600-1000 volunteering editors monitor the website and ensure that it is not vandalized with bad information. At the same conference, Wales said that the team’s ultimate goal is for “every single person on the planet [to be] given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” That is a lofty goal, but it is clear that his dream is becoming a reality. More and more people are turning to Wikipedia for information about anything and everything. Wikipedia has even become more popular than the New York Times.

The Wikipedia article about Michael Jordan is very logically organized. The first few paragraphs tell us quickly the most essential facts about Michael Jordan. In the top right corner a headshot is posted; underneath that you can find vital information like date of birth and a short list of career highlights and awards. Moving further down the main part of the page we find a table of contents with hyperlinks that when clicked on will automatically scroll down to any section of the article you desire. The article is written in chronological order. The article is separated into nine sections. The section that comes first is called “the early years.” Next we find a section called “professional sports career.” It is by far the longest. This is logical because for the largest part of his life Michael Jordan played professional sports. The professional sports career section is broken down into nine subsections, from his early career through six NBA championships all the way to his second comeback with the Washington Wizards. Next we have information about his Olympic career, something both the NBA website and the IMDB failed to mention. Moving along we can read about his legacy, personal life, and business interests. On Michael Jordan’s page there is a “see also” section, with links to other Wikipedia articles about Michael Jordan’s restaurant and other related topics.

The most useful thing about Wikipedia is the many hyperlinks added to each article that will bring you to related articles. The bibliography is filled with direct hyperlinks to actual sources. Above a select list of awards and records is a link to a complete list of career achievements by Michael Jordan with a more comprehensive table of career stats than what can be found at With simple navigation it is very easy to access any information you might be looking for on the Wikipedia website.

Overall it is clear that Wikipedia has the most effective rhetoric. It is constantly monitored and updated by qualified professionals and specialists. It is logically organized and the all white background and black font make the website easy to read. The blue hyperlinks used to navigate to related articles are easy to use. The website is an endless supply of knowledge and is pleasantly addicting. Such easy access to the sum of all human knowledge soon will revolutionize education in both the developed and developing world. Creator Jimmy Wales champions Wikipedia’s strong commitment to a neutral point of view on controversial issues. This official neutral point of view policy makes Wikipedia extremely reliable and unbiased. Jimmy Wales describes his official neutrality policy, “Any time there is a controversial issue, Wikipedia itself should not take a stand on the issue; we should merely report on what reputable parties have said about it” This, he says, empowers a diverse community of intellectuals to come together to actually get some work done.

As the site continually develops and more credible references are added to each page, academics will begin to trust in Wikipedia

When Wikipedia is put side by side with sites like and the IMDB they do not compare. The amount of information that can be found on Wikipedia is unmatched by these inferior websites. These other sites have pleasant color schemes and strong credibility, but when you are looking for information about anything, a complete picture of the subject of your research is infinitely preferable to an incomplete picture. and the IMDB both provide accurate information, but that information is limited to certain subjects, namely NBA basketball and film. All of the information that you can find on any other website can easily be found on Wikipedia. If any information for some reason cannot be found on Wikipedia, the model allows for that missing information to potentially be added immediately after it is found somewhere else. Superior logos, organization and the singular noble commitment to compiling and making freely available information regarding everything under the sun make Wikipedia the supreme masterpiece of rhetoric.

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