Challenging times or mistakes exist to teach people — either the ones making and experiencing them, observers of the trials, or both. If someone hits rock bottom and that impact doesn’t teach or leverage good, then it was a wasted adversity.
Based on recent findings, Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna just might not have hit rock bottom yet.
According to Norcross Municipal Court records, Ozuna’s excessive speeding and DUI arrest last August resulted in only a $1,000 fine. He reportedly pleaded no contest to the speeding violation, something Georgia drivers can do once every five years. The DUI charge, arguably the most inflammatory part of the exchange, was dropped.
Ozuna, who missed most of the 2021 season after a domestic violence arrest (which also saw the felony charge dropped), paid just over $1,000 to bail out of jail that fateful night. But he didn’t lose his driver’s license. In fact, despite his brushes with the law and very public moral shortcomings, Ozuna did not lose a dime from his employer.
Officers clocked Ozuna doing 90 mph in a 35 mph zone on Beaver Ruin Road just east of Buford Highway. In other words, he was doing the interstate speed limit — above the speed limit — on four-lane Beaver Ruin. Selfish and dangerous.
And Ozuna decided that driving almost three times the speed limit was a good idea while, at the very least, tipsy from what he described to police as having drank “three or four beers.”
The entire ordeal just reeked of smugness and condescension. Ozuna reportedly tried to use his MLB ID with officers and referred to himself as “Ozuna from the Braves.” He was out partying on a night in between games, while in midst of major offensive struggles. And he was doing so the year after his domestic violence case removed him from an eventual World Series-winning team that was struggling at the time of his first arrest. Humility and self awareness were as low as the slugger’s batting average.
But why didn’t the Braves load Ozuna and his bad contract in the back of an armored car and dump them both on the side of Beaver Ruin in the dark of night? Because cutting a player who is less than halfway through a four-year, $65 million dollar deal would cost the Braves more than $30 million dollars.
Yes, baseball contracts are normally fully guaranteed and very few actions can void them. Ozuna practically strangling his estranged wife and then driving drunk at nearly triple-digit speeds on a surface street in consecutive years apparently does not cancel a contract.
But that isn’t the point of writing about this. The Braves may not have been willing to eat tens of millions of dollars to teach Ozuna a lesson.
But what did the City of Norcross have to lose by not throwing the book at Ozuna?
That is a missed opportunity. Ozuna’s $1,000 fine does almost nothing to deter him from making the same mistake. And he paid no legal price for driving above the legal alcohol limit.
Teaching a big league multi-millionaire a lesson may have gone some length to also teach younger people that there are consequences to this kind of behavior. This was a chance to make a statement that no one, no matter how powerful they are, is above the law.
The same missed chance is unfolding in Athens, after reckless and drunk driving led to the crash deaths in January of University of Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock and staffer Chandler LeCroy. Not only was LeCroy allegedly driving drunk, but Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter was charged with racing them at high speeds.
Athens-Clarke County charged Carter with street racing and reckless driving in March, charges to which he, like Ozuna, pleaded no contest. He was sentenced to 12 months of probation, 50 hours of community service, and a fine of just over $1,000. Sound familiar?
News broke Friday that Carter was driving on a suspended license back in January. Carter was cited last summer in Florida for driving 49 mph in a 40-zone and required to take traffic school. But Carter did not take the class in time and lost his license in October.
This sentence came down a month before the NFL Draft. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Carter in the first round, despite the legal issues. They actually traded up one spot to get him at ninth overall. Carter’s status will net him a contract worth millions.
Should his legal troubles cost him his NFL career? No. But should he have gotten off with such a small fine especially after losing his license before helping cause a double-fatal crash? This is another missed opportunity with an influential figure.
Ozuna also keeps driving and paid 1/16,000 of his annual salary in fines. His legal fees likely accounted for a great deal more, a price worth paying to essentially make this charge disappear.
But Ozuna did not get completely off the hook. For the second straight year, he got eviscerated in the court of public opinion in 2022. The fans booed him mercilessly after the Norcross arrest, though the chorus lightened as time passed and as Ozuna’s offense improved at the end of last season.
But the designated hitter, who needed a designated driver last summer, has had epic struggles at the plate in 2023 and the Braves fans’ boos rain down nearly every at bat. The Braves may even consider finally cutting him.
This scrutiny could lead a person to publicly own their mistakes. But Ozuna has done very little of that.
Norcross whiffed as badly at prosecuting Ozuna as Ozuna has with runners on base. That rock-bottom night in the wee hours of an Atlanta summer morning should have seeded a chance to set an example. And it should have been a wakeup call for Ozuna.
Since then, Ozuna has stayed out of trouble. Hopefully the embarrassment of his second arrest in two years was enough to change his actions. So far, Ozuna’s and Carter’s travesties behind the wheel haven’t done much to change anyone else’s. And that is a major set of missed opportunities.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.
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