Between a recent Boston Globe gossip item and a New Year’s Eve tweet from the Red Sox third baseman himself, it seems pretty fair to assume that Will Middlebrooks and NESN sideline reporter Jenny Dell (above) are a couple (of adults-doing-adult-things).  Though not wishing the young lovers any ill will, WEEI’s Kirk Minihane considers the situation untenable and argues that Dell should not return to NESN come spring training, though you’ll note he’s not suggested trading Middlebrooks.  “It’s already tough enough for young, attractive female reporters to be taken seriously, isn’t it?” asks Minihane, and fittingly enough, his article features a link to another site’s, “In Case You Forgot How Hot Erin Andrews Is” essay.

I’m sure Jenny Dell considers herself a reporter (and the “She’s not a real reporter” angle is a terrible defense). I’m sure she takes great pride in her work (when reached by phone, Ms. Dell very politely declined to comment for this story, as did Middlebrooks when contacted via direct message on Twitter). And entering a romantic relationship with a player weakens her as a reporter. It is the very definition of conflict of interest.

It’s simple, really — it’s not difficult to spitball a couple of realistic scenarios. If Dell knows Middlebrooks (or another teammate) is traded an hour before anyone else, is it possible she’ll hold reporting on it if Middlebrooks asks her to? How about if Middlebrooks failed a drug test? Or if he’s injured and not telling anyone else about it?

You could absolutely argue that many, if not most, reporters (particularly beat guys) know things about players and occasionally hold off on making the news public. But usually it happens because the reporter knows he or she is currying favor to break another story down the line, to get something better and get it first. This is different, this is protecting a player and hurting your employer and failing to perform your job simply because of an existing relationship. That doesn’t work.

NESN can go one of two ways: Ignore and be subject to deserved ridicule, or perform as an actual network would. There are real professionals in the Red Sox broadcast both in front of and behind the camera and it would injure their credibility to be part of a team that includes the girlfriend of a player, popular and capable though she may be.