Quadrille - 11:48 am on May 30, 2010 (gmt 0)
Avatars don't distract from text, they simply add context and a human face.
I can't see any objection to avatars; the bandwidth thing is not going to cost a million, avatars don't really need active moderation - the report function will work, and they do lighten up the page.
I've been in and out of forums since whenever, and the only problem I ever saw was an idiot using a 350x400 avatar in a forum where I couldn't find the control to limit size. Once I concentrated, it was fixed in moments. Never had a problem since.
And for the tired old guys who can't face visual decoration of the site, there'd be a switch. Turn em off!
And you needn't display one - there could be a default avatar, perhaps featuring the word 'saddo' ;)