Purvis Burke‟s Take on the Rhetoric of Miracle In the peak of the Cold War, a sports team changed everything. The 1980 Lake PlacidOlympics are that of legend. A miracle happened at Lake Placid—the underdog team “TeamUSA” went to war for gold against the best team in the world “Team Russia/ Soviet” anddefeated them. They were led to victory by no-nonsense Coach Herb Brooks. The artifact beingexamined is the infamous locker room speech given to the United States team by Coach Brooksprior to the start of the final and medal determining game of the 1980 Olympics which wasrecreated verbatim in the 2004 movie Miracle. While Brooks‟ speech can be examined by manydifferent rhetorical theories, this paper focuses on Kenneth Burke‟s dramatistic pentad and histheme of identification as well as Aristotle‟s modes of rhetoric and artistic proofs to elucidatehow it is rhetorically effective. Burke‟s pentad encompasses five points: agent, agency, act,scene, and purpose which will all be addressed because they are all present in this act of rhetoricand when two or more of these points are combined the message is strengthened (as discussed inclass on June 2). The agent (which means the person performing the act) in this rhetorical setting is CoachHerb Brooks and the agency (means by which the agent performs the act) is in the mode of amotivational pregame locker-room speech. Coach Brooks is important to take note of because hewas a determining factor for this team in the outcome of the game. As the team‟s leader he setthe tone and mood for the game through his speech. Brooks himself saw his own Olympicdreams dashed twenty years before when he was cut from the last US Olympic hockey team thatwon gold prior to the 1980 games. As a result he was known for being extreme and relentlesslytough—often pushing his own players to their breaking points. He refused to see the same thinghappen to his team that he personally experienced. He was highly respected, and feared by his
Purvisplayers and co-workers, so when he spoke they listened. Brooks was the team‟s harshest criticand biggest supporter. It is important that he gave this speech because it gave an added meaningto the words because he was who he was and he truly meant what he said and anyone listeningcould hear that in his voice. As Brooks was painfully honest and did not say things he did notmean, hearing the message he was giving gave the team the empowerment and encouragementthey desperately needed to hear in order to take the ice and overcome their foe. Brooks stated:“Great moments are born from great opportunity and that‟s what you‟ve been given here tonight,boys...Tonight, we stay with „em, and we shut „em down because we can”! (2004). A messagecoming from him gave it a serious and somber attitude yet uplifting. Thirdly, the act in Miracle is demonstrated through the decorum and style of language.As the team consisted of all young men (the average age of the team was twenty-one) CoachBrooks took advantage of that. Every word he said was calculated and had a point. He spoke tothem as their leader and coach. He used words that he knew would resonate with his players. Hespoke to his players on their level, as an equal. He didn‟t worry about being proper which wasconfirmed by his use of language like “I‟m sick and tired…” and “Screw „em!” Coach Brooksknew his audience and knew what would be effective with them. One of the two most important and influential points of this particular artifact of Burke‟spentad to be examined is scene (which essentially means the location or setting of the act). Scenecan also be called the environment of the artifact. Of course the scene at its basic level was the1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid New York. This scene was significant to the team beingaddressed however, because it was on home turf in the arena that they were about to compete in.It was just minutes before they were to take the ice and they were in the same building as thepeople they were about to battle against. It was just the team and the coaches in the room too—
Purvisno one who was not a part of the “Team USA family” was there. It is also important becausethey were actually at the Olympics which added urgency to their mission. On a more profoundlevel it can be said that the scene was the world stage. People all around the world had access tothis game through television so while the match was physically set in Lake Placid it truly wasbroadcast around the planet allowing millions of people to tune in and added pressure to theplayers especially since this game represented more than hockey, but also the Americansovercoming the Soviet in the Cold War. Probably the most significant piece of the pentad in this situation was Burke‟s purpose.Brooks had a clear purpose throughout his speech which he capably portrayed. He immediatelydrove home that the team had earned the right to compete and that the goal was to beat theSoviets. The Olympics in 1980 were set in the midst of the Cold War—a very tense timebetween the United States and the Soviets (who are now known as Russians). The situation wasmade even more tense by the fact that the Soviets were the dominating force in hockey at thattime, the clear favorites to win the games, and a team that had repeatedly beaten the UnitedStates team in embarrassing massacres in games prior adding insult to injury. Brooks said to theteam “If we played „em ten times, they might win nine….Tonight, we are the greatest hockeyteam in the world…This is your time. Their time…is done—its over”. (2004). These wordsdemonstrated the motivational and inspirational theme behind Brooks‟ words. To Burke this issignificant because there were a great deal of situational factors influencing what these wordsmeant to the players. The purpose of Brooks‟ speech was to motivate the players to overcometheir deficiencies, and beat their arch rivals. Brooks‟ purpose of this speech was also to get theplayers to lay everything on the line, end the game without regret, show his team that he did notdoubt their abilities and prove to the world that the impossible could be overcome—the United
PurvisStates could win the Cold War. This game represented much more than athletics and CoachBrooks wanted to convey that to his players. Coach Brooks was able to appeal to Burke‟s theme of identification too. Burke stated:“Identification is the common ground held by both the speaker and the audience in which trustand substance is formed (Griffin, 2006, pg. 331).” Coach Brooks and his team had no shortage ofcommon ground. They had been working towards the same goal with one another for a year. Theteam knew of their coach‟s dashed Olympic dreams and did not want to take away a win fromhim or themselves. All of the team members were from the United States as well, so they wereall from similar backgrounds, felt strongly for the United States‟ position in the Cold War, andall wanted to represent their country well. The use of Burke‟s pentad was also effective because of the presence of Aristotle‟sartistic proofs of ethos and pathos as well as the mode of rhetoric epideictic. As demonstrated bythe use of Burke‟s idea of the agent it is known that Coach Brooks was a credible person to thekids he coached. Credibility goes hand in hand with Aristotle‟s concept of ethos. We also see agreat deal of pathos elicited by Brooks. Pathos (meaning emotion) was expressed from beginningto end of the speech. Every time Brooks addressed the team having earned their way to theOlympic finale` game, the team work that they would demonstrate in the game, the “Screwthem” attitude he had for the Soviet team, etc. were all emotional appeals to the boys he wasleading. The entire speech was within the expectations of an epideictic mode. Coach Brooks‟speech was focused on the moment. It was all about what was happening right there in thatparticular moment, not what to do in the future or what had happened before. Brooks said thingssuch as: “This is your time!” and “Go out there and take it!” It was very much about seizing that
Purvisvery minute and for that reason never crossed into the territory of a judicial or deliberative modeof rhetoric. Using Burke‟s concepts of the pentad and identification combined, Brooks created anextremely successful, relevant, and enduring speech. With the focus being on the purpose of thespeech the urgency and importance of the event was really driven home. Brooks appealed to thepathos/emotions of his team members and kept his tone in the epideictic throughout the durationof his speech which also contributed to the success of his message. Because Miracle was able toencompass all these through Coach Brooks‟ speech they were able to show just how effectivepassionate speech in an important and moving moment can be. Rhetoric changed the course ofthese young men‟s lives and the lives of the citizens living around the world.