In case you're wondering, no, ESPN still has no plans to add comments to Rick Reilly's or the Sports Guy's columns in the foreseeable future. As this email exchange with CBS Sports indicates.
Most of you remember the Great Bill Simmons Commenter Experiment of 2007, in which Simmons' new comments section exploded, spewing verbs and prepositions everywhere. With us partly to blame. But it's somewhat amusing that the effects of that are being felt to this day, and now include Reilly; making those two the only ESPN entities with no reader commenting.
It's a bit like Bush not calling on Helen Thomas during press conferences. OK, it's nothing like that. Let's move on. CBS Sports columnist Cameron Martin decided to test the commenting waters in his latest Spin on Sports column, and presents this email exchange with ESPN spokesman Paul Melvin.
Me: "Paul, I had a question about ESPN columnists that I was going to address in my CBS column on Monday: Why can't readers comment on Rick Reilly and Bill Simmons columns? And why is it only them? Is it to protect the idea that these two columnists are universally loved? Jemele Hill and DJ Gallo and Scoop Jackson and Gene W get hammered by some readers. Why isn't that same courtesy extended to Bill and Rick? Seems disingenuous. Thanks, Cameron Martin."
ESPN: "Cameron, Bill and Rick's accessibility to fans has always been part of their style, and they both have developed long-standing practices of engaging their fans. Bill has a history of using his interaction with his readers as part of his voice and has, through the years, developed a regular, robust 'mailbag' style column that is a favorite of readers. Rick's connection to the personal stories of people in all walks of life has helped give him his signature voice. With respect to those traditions, we've chosen to continue to present their interaction with readers through those avenues."
Me: "Paul, thanks for the reply. Quick follow-up: In this new era of change, transparency and accountability, isn't it a bit antiquated and un-American to try to control feedback from the public? What if President Obama wanted to comment directly on one of Rick Reilly's stories? Shouldn't he be able to announce to the world, ‘Rick, you're an inspiration to millions everywhere'?"
ESPN: "Hi Cameron. Appreciate the follow up, but I think our earlier comment is all we're going to have to offer here. Paul Melvin."
So you see, Bill and Rick's "long-standing practice of engaging their fans" in "regular, robust mailbag-style columns" should suffice in the reader feedback department. That matter is now closed, Cameron, it really is. And I also fully suspect that had you attempted a second follow-up, a van would have pulled up next to you on the sidewalk and two men would have covered you in a large canvas bag and no one would have ever seen you again.
Even Jay Mariotti has a comments section, and the world hasn't come to an end.
I also suspect that the last thing ESPN wants is a flame war between Reilly and Simmons fans. Although why they don't baffles me: Think of the page views. I'd read both columns three times a day, at least.