Red Sox Bench Reporter Jenny Dell Over Romance With Will Middlebrooks

Jenny Dell, the Boston Red Sox sideline reporter for all of the team’s games that air on the local NESN cable network, has been, herself, sidelined by the station.

The upcoming season would have been the third for Jenny Dell in her sideline reporter role with NESN. In 2012, she saw the Red Sox trudge to a last-place finish amid near-constant team turmoil. In 2013, she was there as the Red Sox pulled off an inspiring turnaround to win the World Series.

In 2014, Jenny Dell won’t be with the team at all.

And while NESN — which is 80 percent owned by Fenway Sports Group, owners of the Red Sox — did not give a reason publicly, it is hardly a coincidence that Jenny Dell’s romance with Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks became public over the holidays.

The relationship between Jenny Dell, 27, and Will Middlebrooks, 25, is reportedly serious. The two are not merely dating, they’ve moved in together.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that — young people do tend to fall in love every now and again — the potential conflict of interest between Jenny Dell reporting on the team that her live-in boyfriend plays for appears to have been too much for NESN, and had already raised eyebrows among Boston’s media, and the fan base of the reigning Major League Baseball champions.

On New Year’s Eve, Will Middlebrooks posted a message on his Twitter account reading, “Happy New Year from us to you! Here’s to a great 2014!” The tweet, sent to to Middlebrooks’ 149,000-plus followers included a snapshot of the third baseman with his arm affectionately around Jenny Dell at a New Year’s Eve party.

While the Jenny Dell — Will Middlebrooks romance had been the proverbial worst-kept-secret in Boston, the December 31 tweet was the first time either one of the Boston celebrity couple had acknowledged it publicly.

As The Boston Globe explained the situation, placing the player-reporter involvement on the record as Middlebrooks did, “brought fair questions about the ethics of a reporter dating a player. While a sideline reporter isn’t necessarily a journalist, the effect that fraternizing with the players has on genuine female journalists who have fought for access and credibility is palpable.”

Female sideline reporters have become a staple of sports broadcasts in recent years, but though they are now prevalent, the position of women in the male-dominated world of pro sports remains tenuous.

“I’m not going to say that no player has ever hit on me, but it’s just not an option,” said Abby Chin, who holds the sideline reporter job on local Boston Celtics basketball telecasts. “I would immediately shut down any sort of request. It’s a bridge I’m not willing to cross. Women in this business don’t get three strikes, they get one.”

The only statement from NESN avoided the issue altogether.

“NESN has an active search for a Red Sox sideline reporter,” said NESN spokesperson Gary Roy. “Jenny Dell, a multi-talented on-air personality, is anchoring NESN Sports Today and handling other assignments for NESN.”