I hope it works out for Jenny Dell. I hope it is worth it.
When Dell and boyfriend, Will Middlebrooks, decided to hit the "send" button on Twitter to post a picture of themselves together on New Year's Eve, it proved to be the same as Dell hitting the "I quit" button on her NESN/Red Sox career.
She had to have realized that, right? She didn't think she could continue on with her field reporter gig with the Red Sox, could she?
Surely, she and Middlebrooks were tired of hiding. Maybe they chose New Year's, had a few drinks, and said, "Screw it, let's start the New Year out fresh and get it out there." Maybe their relationship is that far along. One would hope so. It would suck if they were to break up three months from now.
Maybe it says more about me that I am not that strong a believer in love. Hey, that's just me. Hey, maybe the two will go on to get married and have wonderful children and live happily ever after. I suppose there is a 50/50 chance of that happening. If not, Dell has just thrown away one of the more glamorous gigs in baseball.
WEEI's Kirk Minihane was one of the first to demand that Dell be dismissed from covering Red Sox games due to the obvious conflict of interest. "There is no way NESN can bring her back in her current position as (according to her own bio on Twitter) NESN reporter for the Boston Red Sox." Minihane was proven right, but did NESN do the right thing?
Sports journalism is a tough business. Female reporters complain they aren't taken seriously. Male reporters whisper they miss out on certain jobs because they aren't the "eye candy" some networks are looking for certain jobs.
Were there maybe better candidates?
Depends on what you expect from your field reporter. Are you looking for Ken Rosenthal-type breaking news reporting? Then the answer is, "Yes, there were far better candidates." When is the last time (or only time) you remember Dell or Watney breaking a story while covering the Red Sox? I can't think of one.
Do the predominantly male NESN viewers prefer "eye candy" field reporters gripping a microphone while reporting which ballparks sell the tastiest hot dogs? In that case, they've been lucky with the likes of Watney and Dell for the last six years.
If you fit into the latter group, you have no problem with Dell dating Middlebrooks while carrying out her duties as field reporter for NESN. It's not like her job is to criticize Middlebrooks' play in the field. She is not breaking down his batting stance or his "hot zones" (easy now).
Instead, she is going around the crowd looking for human interest stories. She is going to the food stands to report on the nachos or pretzels.
Is a field reporter's job to get to the bottom of why a hitter is slumping? Is there dissension going on in the clubhouse? Does a player or coach have a drinking/drug problem or marital problems? Do you view this as the responsibility of the field reporter to report these things? Well, then Dell has to go. Surely she has heard a ton of gossip and innuendo while chilling, watching TV with her boyfriend. She has the most inside of inside knowledge. It shouldn't be left to her discretion what she does or does not report. That job should be left for someone else.
The bigger problem is the perception of the female reporter. Abby Chin, the female sideline reporter for the Boston Celtics on Comcast, was pretty open with some comments on the general topic of dating athletes. According to this Boston Globe article, Chin appeared on ESPN New Hampshire's "Christian and King" show. When the topic of dating athletes came up, Chin replied, "I just know for me and my mind-set, it's not even an option."
Chin continues, "It's a bridge I'm not willing to cross. As a woman in this business, we are constantly climbing an uphill battle when it comes to credibility. So even the slightest nick in your armor could have a much larger effect... Women in this business don't get three strikes, they get one."
The point here is not to start a catfight between Chin and Dell, but to present two different approaches. I am sure Dell once felt the same way as Chin does. Hey, love works in mysterious ways. Maybe Chin will have to eat her words some day.
Fairly or unfairly, "sexy" female sports reporters, like Dell, Watney, and, let's say, Erin Andrews, are hard to take seriously. At the same time, their "sexiness" has opened doors for them that remain shut for others. Again, what is the job of the field reporter? Is it to be "sexy"? Remember in Dan Shaughnessy's book "Francona: The Red Sox Years" when he writes the Red Sox wanted to be sexier in order to attract more viewers and fans to the park and NESN?
It's the sad reality, I guess. Style over substance. So if that is the attitude over at Fenway, I don't see why Dell needs to be reassigned. I knew of the rumors all last season. Did I snicker when I'd see Dell interview Middlebrooks? Sure, I did. Did it bother me? No.
I find it more than coincidental that NESN's announcement to reassign Dell comes on the heels of Jerry Remy announcing his return to the NESN broadcast booth. Did NESN consider it too much to have the father of an alleged murderer as well as their little starlet dating a player on the same broadcast team? I wonder if Remy announced that he wasn't coming back if Dell would have remained on. NESN must have known of the romantic relationship between Middlebrooks and Dell for some time. Why act now-- less than three weeks away from players reporting to spring training?
The bottom line is Dell will land on her feet. In December, the Globe ran an article claiming that Fox Sports 1 was courting her services. For better or worse, the sports world will always have a place for the Heidi Watneys and Jenny Dells of the world. For now, you can still watch Dell anchoring the studio show "NESN Sports Today."