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For a columnist in the digital age, there’s no wait for the hate

Boston Globe and Associated Press file photos. Illustration by Katie McInerney/Globe staff

We write about sports. You (hopefully) read what we write. Increasingly, you tell us what you think about what we write. In today’s free-for-all, everybody-is-a-columnist age of opinions, there are simply so many ways to respond.

I first noticed this on football Sundays on the road with the Patriots. In the old days, a column offered from the press box in Pittsburgh might trigger a small sack of angry mail back at the old home office on Morrissey Boulevard. It would take a couple of days, but by Wednesday it was made clear to me in no uncertain terms that I suck.


Now I suck on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh before even leaving the press box.

Let me explain: I am a speedy scribe and sometimes finish ahead of my harder-working colleagues at Patriot games. In some cases, I am done first.

This gives Globe editors back in Boston time to edit and post the column. It gives the readers a crack at being first to call me a knucklehead. By the time all my colleagues are done with their work and ready to carpool back to the hotel, I already have an early exit poll from agitated Globe readers who care deeply about their Patriots.

Welcome to sports commentary 2020. Welcome to the “comments” offered below in the online edition of this column.

The comments are generally hilarious, opinionated, forceful, and heartfelt. They are sometimes rude and crude. They are always anonymous. And they are sometimes better than the actual column. Bonus entertainment.

The comments section is not for the faint of heart or the thin of skin. It can wear you out if you are the subject of the critiques. But we are fair game. We dish it out, so we must take it. It’s the life we choose. (Still, I’m glad my dear mom didn’t live to read all this.)


It’s pretty clear that there’s a vigilant Globe “bot” that vets the comments and erases reader submissions that include words considered obscene or hateful. I’m pretty sure you can’t get an f-bomb past the Globe’s column-culling bot, and I’m sure many have tried.

In this spirit, I’m sometimes amused when I read a succession of angry, hate-filled comments that include almost every form of insult . . . only to suddenly read, “This comment has been blocked.’’ Huh? It always makes me wonder, “Wow. What was in that one? How could it have been worse than all the ones I just read?’’

I suspect lots of commenters don’t actually read the column they are commenting on. They simply react to a headline or to another commenter. It’s best never to engage with commenters. Nothing good can come of it. We get to furnish our opinion and now they get to provide their own. Seems fair enough.

Having inspired a small cult of regular commenters, I’ve come to recognize some of their “handles.” They have honed their own style and some of them are pretty darn good. And funny. I’ve even noticed an occasional misguided “Dan defender.’’

E-mailers are another group of valuable Globe readers/commenters. It is my experience that e-mailers tend to be older individuals. I try to respond to those who take time to e-mail, even if it’s a simple “thank you,’’ “got it,’’ or “have a nice day.’’


The bosses discourage wiseguy responses to angry or insulting e-mailers. Don’t fire back in anger.

OK. No more, “Seek professional help.’’ No more, “Jesus loves you — I don’t. Please go away.’’

Nope. Those days are over. We love all of our good Globe readers.

Still, it’s tempting when someone writes, “Your a moron,’’ to respond with a snarky, “Actually, it’s, ‘YOU’RE a moron.’ ’’

The late, great Globe boss Tom Winship had the best response when folks phoned to register complaints. In a cheery, chipper voice, Winship would say, “Well, maybe you’ll like the next one!’’

Sadly, there is hardly any more snail mail. That is the domain of the elderly. It takes time, stationery, and a stamp.

If I get a piece of mail at my Globe office today, it invariably comes with my name scrawled in the old Rinehart cursive that was taught in our schools after World War II. It is likely from someone who lives alone. And the tones are softer. The rare stamped envelope often yields sweet and patient thoughts.

This column was inspired by an e-mail that landed in my inbox Friday when I wrote that I’m hoping Tom Brady leaves New England and signs with another team. A polite Globe reader e-mailed to warn, “You’ll probably be getting a lot of hate mail in the office next week.’’

Not one envelope.

But there were 297 comments below the digital version of the column.

Feel free to tell me what you think of today’s column. It’s OK if you hated it. Maybe you’ll like the next one.


Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.