Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said Thursday morning that reporter Jenny Dell, who was removed as the in-game reporter on the team’s telecasts, is free to leave NESN.
Werner made the comment during a media availability session at the Red Sox’ spring training site in Fort Myers, Fla.
“We talked about it internally, because I think that Jenny is a terrific reporter,’’ Werner said. “We came to the conclusion and I think Jenny came to the same conclusion that it would be a distraction for her to be a reporter, and so she’s moving on.”
Dell, who quickly gained popularity with her friendly manner among Red Sox fans when she replaced Heidi Watney before the 2012 season, was shifted in late January to a reporter/anchor role primarily with NESN Sports Today.
NESN executives had not commented previously on the specifics of why she was removed from the Red Sox broadcast. The public perception is that they made the change because of the ethical questions raised by a reporter dating a player.
Dell, who has drawn interest from national networks, went public with her relationship with third baseman Will Middlebrooks on New Year’s Eve.
“It wasn’t a black-and-white decision because [maybe she could] divorce her personal life from her professional one,’’ Werner said, “but in the end we decided it was time to move on.”
Werner was asked if he meant she was free to leave the network.
“She’s looking for other opportunities,’’ he said.
Will she be allowed to pursue those?
“Yeah. Nothing’s been said, I but I think she’s looking for other opportunities.”
Dell spent two years at NESN and the network picked up its third-year option on her contract.
Multiple industry sources believe at least part of the reason she was moved is as a penance for considering leaving — Fox Sports 1 expressed interest in hiring her, but that fell through — with time remaining on her contract.
Now that Werner, a successful television executive who has the last word at NESN, has said she can leave, the question becomes how soon before she does. Dell could not be reached for comment.
NESN has no specific timeframe for when it will hire a Red Sox reporter. According to industry sources, hiring a male reporter is a consideration.
Werner also said Jerry Remy has the full support of NESN and the Red Sox. Remy’s son, Jared, was charged with murdering his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel, in August. The trial is scheduled to begin in October.
“We’re delighted he’s back,’’ Werner said. “We know he’s very mindful of the tragedy but I think he’s excited about returning to the booth.”
Simmons signs on
Bill Simmons first came to prominence more than a decade ago with his Boston Sports Guy column on Digital Cities. His ascent since to a master of many mediums at ESPN includes a staggering number of successes and responsibilities: the “30 for 30” film series, his stand-alone site Grantland.com, a popular and prolific podcast, and even a prominent role on the network’s NBA studio programming.
One role he hasn’t often filled at ESPN is that of game analyst. He’s dabbled in color commentary on a couple of west coast college games and even a Heat-Warriors NBA matchup in 2010, receiving mostly positive reviews. But he’s still a relative novice, and the gig is pretty far down his list of priorities. But when the opportunity arose to serve as one of Tommy Heinsohn’s fill-ins during road games on Comcast SportsNet New England’s Celtics broadcasts, Simmons couldn’t sign on fast enough.
“Mike Gorman, who I know a little bit, was telling me [before the season] how Tommy was just doing home games this year and that they were doing this hodge-podge of guys on the road games,’’ said Simmons, who will join Gorman for Friday’s Celtics-Lakers matchup. “I said, ‘Man, I’d love to do one of those.’ He said, ‘Are you serious?,’ and like a day later, someone from [CSNNE] contacted me and sent along a schedule so we could figure it out. I actually was really toying with the idea of doing a whole road trip, but it just didn’t work out. We have three NBA shows with the trade deadline this week so it would have been tough to make it work.”
Simmons is pulling double-duty Friday. He’ll appear on ESPN’s NBA Countdown at 7:30 before joining CSNNE before the 10:30 p.m. tipoff.
The game will also be broadcast on ESPN. ESPN was fine with letting Simmons call a game on a Comcast-owned network; it just asked in return for permission to use CSNNE’s audio from the game production.
“I couldn’t be more excited,’’ Simmons said. “Tommy’s a legend, a Holy Cross guy [as is Simmons], and it’s a Celtics-Lakers game, though I’ll have to pretend both teams aren’t terrible. Calling a Celtics-Lakers game for the local station would have been a bucket-list thing when I was growing up, so I’m going to try to pretend the teams are good.”
It’s suggested to Simmons that Celtics-Lakers history doesn’t get much more exciting than a Kelly Olynyk-Ryan Kelly showdown.
“It’s kind of like Larry and Magic,’’ he said with a laugh. “Yeah, but not really.”
Gonzalez on board
CBS subbed one accomplished ex-tight end for another on its NFL Today studio crew this week when it announced the recently retired Tony Gonzalez would join the program next year. Shannon Sharpe, who joined CBS in 2004 after his decorated career ended, is out. So is fellow Hall of Famer Dan Marino, who has been part of the show since 2002. The shakeup is no surprise. NFL Today has lagged behind Fox’s NFL pregame program in the ratings, and the camera-friendly Gonzalez was coveted by more than one network. Sharpe did improve over the years — his passionate anti-bullying stance on the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin situation was insightful, must-watch television — but Marino added little value beyond the comedy of him staring daggers at Boomer Esiason whenever he’d needle him about never winning a Super Bowl. Currently, CBS has a panel of four, host James Brown, Gonzalez, and holdovers Esiason and Bill Cowher, but there are reports CBS will add a fifth voice, possibly former Jets and Ravens linebacker Bart Scott. Can’t wait . . . Best wishes to Channel 5’s Mike Dowling, who will sign off Friday night for the final time after a 28-year run as a sports anchor/reporter at the station. As a reporter, Dowling always told worthwhile and often compelling stories without embellishment or sensationalism. Here’s hoping there’s still a place for that, and for him . . . WEEI 93.7 will carry the United States-Canada men’s hockey game at noon Friday. You know it’s a big deal when an Olympic event takes precedence over our pro-sports provincialism.