TW: domestic abuse
On Monday, while you were busy trying to shake off a turkey coma and worrying about an MLB lockout, Rob Manfred et al made a successful news dump to very little notice. Braves’ outfielder Marcell Ozuna was suspended for violating the league’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. His suspension? Twenty games.
At first glance, 20 games might look like a lot, compared to the NFL, where suspensions for domestic violence rarely meet the six-game threshold set forth by the league as a jumping off point. But Ozuna hasn’t played for the Braves since late May, when he injured two fingers sliding into third base. His 20-game suspension is retroactive, so between the time he missed for injury and the time he spent on administrative leave, Ozuna will be eligible to play on Opening Day, 2022, assuming there is an Opening Day next year.
On Wednesday, the Sandy Springs, Ga., police department released body cam footage from the officers who arrested Ozuna.
The video, despite Ozuna’s assurances that the release of the video would clear him of wrongdoing, is not great. It clearly shows Ozuna with his hand around his wife’s neck, pushing her backwards while choking her at the same time. This apparently isn’t a big deal to Ozuna, who insisted that, once the video was released, the Sandy Springs PD would have to apologize to him. I don’t think that’s going to be a thing.
Ozuna was originally charged with felony strangulation, but the charge was later reduced to misdemeanor battery and assault which, anyone who has worked in domestic violence court, is par for the course when the victim is uncooperative, as they often are. Domestic violence is a psychological crime as much as it is a physical one. Like many abusers, Ozuna has been offered a diversion program, which could see all charges against him dropped as long as he jumps through whatever hoops Fulton County forces him to.
What makes Ozuna’s relatively light sentence so jarring is three-fold: First, seeing an abuser batter a victim on video is often a shock to the system for anyone, and even a quick glimpse of a professional athlete with his hand around a woman’s throat is hard to watch. Secondly, Ozuna’s 20-game suspension is on the lower end of suspensions recently handed out by MLB in cases without video. Addison Russell got 40 games based on interviews with his ex-wife after the couple had already split. Sam Dyson was suspended for the entire 2021 season after his ex posted on Instagram that he had been abusive. Domingo Germán got 81 games for what appears to be a relatively analogous incident. None of the incidents that led to the suspensions of those players have been caught on video.
But I’m not here to cry that MLB is too tough on abusers in he-said, she-said situations. I am here to tell you that there is a reason prosecutors charge abusers who strangle with felonies. Here’s what I wrote in a piece about the charges against Ozuna back in May, and I think it’s worth sharing again, in hopes the information will reach as many people as possible:
“According to The Training Institute for Strangulation Prevention, while one in four women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, 68 percent of those women will suffer near-fatal strangulation. Nine percent of the women strangled will be pregnant at the time. Thirty-eight percent of them will lose consciousness. A full 70 percent of them will believe they are about to die.
“Domestic violence workers are taught early on that domestic abuse is not about anger, it’s about power and control. In the case of strangulation, the abuser is controlling their victim’s access to life-sustaining oxygen; literally controlling, in that moment, whether the victim lives or dies.
“Physical signs of strangulation are only visible in about 50 percent of non-fatal cases. Only 15 percent of those visible injuries showed up on photographs, debunking the popular myth that a victim without visible injuries or “proof” of physical abuse have actually been assaulted. “Strangulation can cause unconsciousness in a matter of seconds and death within a few minutes. But it’s what happens after a victim survives a strangulation event that is most horrific. In addition to suffering from PTSD, depression, memory loss, nightmares, anxiety, and psychosis, victims who are strangled are also seven times more likely to eventually be killed by their abuser. More than any other physical act, strangulation is a prelude to a future homicide. “More alarmingly, death can occur for strangulation victims days or weeks after the event itself, “due to carotid artery dissection and respiratory complications, like pneumonia, ARDS [acute respiratory distress syndrome], and the risk of blood clots traveling to the brain.”
When it comes to the dynamics of domestic violence, MLB has been the best-informed of the four leagues, although the bar is admittedly laying on the floor. Their policy still relies on victims putting themselves in danger in order to talk to the league about their abuse, but at least there’s a rehabilitative component to MLB’s punishment, requiring players to be evaluated by an expert and to attend appropriate counseling, although it’s usually not enough.
So what is MLB doing? We have video of an MLB player with his hands on his wife’s neck, who only stops when the police burst in and order him to the ground. How does that not rise to the level of the 50, 80, 100-game suspensions that have been handed out to other players? Is MLB’s thinking that missing out on the World Series was enough punishment for Ozuna? I hope not, as tying an abuser’s punishment to his team’s success is a terrible road to go down.
With the MLB owners voting unanimously to lock the players out late last night, the league has managed to slip this one under the radar. But like their labor talks, when it comes to their much-celebrated policy on domestic abuse, it feels like the league is moving in the wrong direction.
If you or a loved one is experiencing intimate partner violence, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the confidential National Domestic Violence Hotline.