Callum Borchers' Blog

Sociologically significant sports (and class assignments)

Newton story brings out best and worst in comments

with one comment

No ongoing sports story has generated more comment fodder than that about alleged recruiting violations surrounding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. A Mississippi State booster and other sources claim the junior’s father Cecil Newton solicited money from that school during his recruitment last year. Cam Newton spent two years at Florida as Tim Tebow’s backup then transferred to a junior college in Texas. Auburn and Mississippi State were Newton’s top two choices when he planned to return to FBS, and his father allegedly demanded $100,000-$180,000 from the latter. There have been no substantiated reports about a payment by Auburn, which Newton has lead to an 11-0 record and No. 2 BCS ranking.

This story involves a black quarterback, lots of money, and SEC football — three components sure to elicit the best and worst in online commenting.

ESPN.com, of course, boasts some of the fullest comment fields on the Web. A Newton article it posted last Thursday drew 3,857 published responses, for instance. To my pleasant surprise (As a rule, I completely ignore comments, so I’m unfamiliar with the environment of even my favorite sports site), the content — if not the grammar, syntax or punctuation — of the dialogue was pretty reasonable. Readers engaged one another in legitimate debates about Newton’s knowledge of his father’s alleged solicitation of money, Newton’s Heisman Trophy candidacy, whether Auburn might have to vacate wins, and other related topics.

Some readers wrote several hundred words at a time and included not only their own opinions but also material from other publications. Many of the posts were critical — of Newton, his father, the schools, the NCAA, and even ESPN — but none I read were hateful. Readers are required to register with ESPN.com before they can comment, and they can report message board abuse by their peers to the Web site. The system seems to work, fostering legitimate conversations among readers.

By contrast, the SEC Rant message board at TigerDroppings.com fosters brain disease. The Tigers referenced in the site’s name are the LSU, not Auburn, breed, so naturally most of the comments weren’t terribly supportive of Newton. One post simply read, “Death Penalty!” and one commenter goes by the screen name CoonassBulldog.

As best I can tell, anything goes on this site.

As mentioned, I am not a fan of comments, in general. I believe they hold very little value and are often nothing but anonymous, venemous nonsense. However, I recognize many people do read and participate in message boards, and the sense of Web site  ownership engendered by interactivity constitutes just enough value to make comments indispensible. I think a news organization that returns to one-way communication by eliminating comments altogether risks alienating readers.

Therefore, the best way to maintain two-way communication but prevent digital depravity is to require commenters to use their real names. An outlet with tremendous resources, like ESPN.com, might pull off anonymity, but I doubt the ability of most others to do the same.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1176386/2/index.htm

http://www.tigerdroppings.com/rant/MessageTopic.asp?p=22675107&Pg=1

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Written by callumborchers

November 15, 2010 at 12:41 pm

One Response

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  1. I wonder if ESPN.com monitors comments or just attracts a better class of commenter? That would be an absurd number of comments for anyone to plow through.

    dankennedy

    November 16, 2010 at 4:58 pm


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