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Open letters offer a unique focus for rhetorical analysis in sport communication, forming a message that is both interpersonal (the attempt to reflect dialogue through a letter writer and its recipients) and public (the “open” part of the open letter). The National Football League (NFL) attempted image repair when it used open letters to respond to accusations that it was not doing enough to protect athletes against devastating effects of concussions. Through the use of Benoit’s theory of image repair, the authors found that Commissioner Goodell’s open letters relied on 2 main image-repair strategies: reducing offensiveness and corrective action. They consider the implications of these rhetorical choices for the complicated merging areas of sport, communication, and health in the NFL’s open letters.
Josh Compton is with the Inst. for Writing and Rhetoric, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. Jordan Compton is with the Dept. of Communication Studies, Ohio University, Athens, OH.