October 6, 2020

Pitcher Sam Dyson Accused of Years Of Physical & Emotional Abuse; Ex-Girlfriend's Account Exposes Extreme Problems Within Police Departments & MLB

Alexis Blackburn Speaks Out About Abuse Allegations Against Pitcher Sam Dyson
By Katie Strang and Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic, October 6, 2020
Content warning: This story includes images that may be difficult to see and emotionally upsetting. [Note: No images are below; bold below is my emphasis.]

When a dispatcher from the Jupiter Police Department first picks up the phone on November 19, Alexis Blackburn sounds calm. She's explaining that she and her boyfriend have ended their relationship and she has been kicked out of the Florida home where they lived for the previous two years, but she has been unable to retrieve personal items from the residence. Her voice remains steady as she explains that he has been abusive toward her in the past.

But less than a minute into the call, Blackburn's voice breaks:

"I'm trying to get the rest of the belongings but, the issue is, he's a professional athlete and he's literally holding my stuff hostage and I didn't know what to do, and I didn't want to go public but I don't know what to do right now . . . ."

The dispatcher tells Blackburn she will try to get someone to assist. According to Blackburn, the police officer she's transferred to asks Blackburn how long she's lived in the house (two years), whether she received mail there (yes) and whether both their names were on the deed to the house (no). After learning her name is not on the deed, he tells her there is nothing he can do. It's a civil matter.

Earlier that day, she texts the agent of her ex-boyfriend, pitcher Sam Dyson, asking the agent to help facilitate a time to get her things, including her sweaters, jewelry, birth certificate and multiple kitchen items. She tells him she does not wish to involve the authorities; she only wants to retrieve her items in peace. After almost two hours without a response, she calls the Jupiter Police Department again for assistance. According to the event report of the call, which lasts 55 seconds, Blackburn explains the situation, including a violent incident involving her cat on November 6. The officer then tells her "it would be hard to prove but we would investigate." It reminded her of the response from an officer five days prior. During a call to the police non-emergency line, she says an officer told her that she sounded like a "vindictive girlfriend."

On November 20, Blackburn's vet called to inform Blackburn her beloved cat needed emergency surgery. Blackburn's heartbreak turned into anger, both at Dyson and at herself. Thinking back at the last straw of their relationship, the incident on the night of November 6, in which she said Dyson took out his aggression on her cat by kicking a box that he was in, she felt traumatized.

"I blame myself so much because there were so many opportunities to leave," Blackburn said.

Blackburn asked a friend — a wife of one of Dyson's teammates in San Francisco — for someone she could call at MLB to seek help. Days later, she worked up the courage to post about her experience publicly on Instagram. She intimated the nature of an abusive relationship on her own personal account, but stopped short of detailing the totality of her experience. Her experience seeking help from law enforcement earlier that month made her wary. She decided to instead detail the violent behavior directed toward her cat on an account designated to her pet, knowing that she could verify that with photos, and that the violence against her cat would be taken seriously.

Shortly after the second Instagram post on November 26, The Athletic reported that Major League Baseball had initiated an investigation into Dyson, then a free agent.

Last month, nearly ten months after Blackburn first went public with details of her story, Dyson sat down with MLB investigators, a source confirmed to The Athletic. It is not immediately clear whether Dyson, who is currently a free agent, intends to play again, or whether a potential comeback influenced his participation, but MLB is permitted to assess discipline regardless of whether he intends to return to the league.

In January, Blackburn and Dyson were interviewed by Jupiter (Florida) police after Blackburn flew to Florida to file a police report about the November 6 incident.

In an almost 20-minute videotaped interview with an officer, Blackburn alleged multiple previous incidents of physical violence by Dyson and said he had been abusive for years. At one point during the interview, Blackburn broke down and said she was fearful for her safety because Dyson owns firearms.

"I'm absolutely terrified of what he's capable of doing," Blackburn said, crying.

In his recorded interview with police, Dyson admitted he and Blackburn had a "verbally violent and toxic relationship" and that he kicked the cat kennel during the night in question, though he said the cat was not in the kennel. When asked repeatedly if he touched or grabbed Blackburn during the argument, Dyson tells the officer "Not that I can remember" and "Honestly, I don't remember." Dyson informed the officer that he was a professional athlete and that MLB was already investigating this incident and other domestic violence allegations against him. Toward the end of the interview, Dyson asked what sort of outcome he should expect, and whether someone might show up to his workplace with handcuffs. The police officer informs Dyson that he doesn't think he has probable cause, but that Dyson may hear from a detective should there be any follow-up questions.

The officer ends the interview by telling Dyson: "Ok, get back to your workout, bud!"

In the police report summarizing the investigation, the officer notes that Blackburn showed him photos of bruises on her arm from the incident. When asked why she didn't file a police report right after the incident happened, he wrote that "she did not have an answer."

Blackburn said she was in "absolute shock" when the officer asked her why she didn't file a police report right away. In the weeks after the incident, she had called police multiple times asking for help in getting her things and she detailed alleged abuse.

In the investigation report, the officer writes: "At this time, I am unable to find probable cause due to conflicting statements and the time delay of the incident."

Dyson's attorney, when asked to respond to a number of specific allegations from Blackburn, notes that his client was cooperative in this interview and that Blackburn, according to the police officer's summary in the report, said "there had not been any other domestic violence situation between her and Samuel begore [sic]." Dyson's agent did not respond to a request for comment.

Blackburn's story is just one of multiple domestic violence incidents that have surfaced since the league's domestic violence policy went into place as a joint MLB and MLBPA program in 2015. Aroldis Chapman became the first player suspended under the policy when he was assessed with a 30-game ban in March 2016. In September 2017, MLB suspended catcher Derek Norris for the remainder of the season for violating the league's domestic violence policy after his former fiance detailed physical and emotional abuse on her personal blog. One year later, in September 2018, Melisa Reidy wrote a post about her experience with years of physical and emotional abuse by her former spouse, Addison Russell, who would later be suspended 40 games without pay.  Roberto Osuna was suspended for 75 games in June 2018, yet still pitched after serving his ban with an assault charge unresolved at the time. These are just some of the MLB cases in which the league assessed significant suspensions. Still, Blackburn's experience underscores some of the barriers that remain for someone in an abusive relationship to seek help

Before going public with her story on social media, Blackburn felt emotionally isolated, ashamed to confide in others and unsure of how to locate resources. Even after she began to reveal what was happening, she felt conflicting emotions: Relief from those who reached out to provide support at the time of her disclosures and since (Blackburn said that multiple people reached out this past weekend in the wake of the news that former MLB player Charlie Haeger was wanted in the shooting death of his ex-girlfriend and then died by apparent suicide); hurt over those who judged her decision to come forward. MLB helped her with financial assistance to undergo counseling, but her experience with local law enforcement left her feeling re-traumatized.

Blackburn hopes the resolution of MLB's investigation will provide her with closure, and that by speaking out she'll encourage others in a similar position to do the same. Blackburn hid her physical and emotional scars for years, and no longer wants what she endured to be stigmatized or a source of shame. Sometimes, she says, relationships are not as they seem.

"I want people to know … things are different behind closed doors."

The Athletic has reviewed text messages, photos, medical documents and public records and conducted several interviews with friends and associates of the pair, which support Blackburn's claims that Dyson routinely tried to assert control over her social interactions, work opportunities, and medical decisions and routinely belittled and demeaned her in front of family members and friends.

Additionally, Blackburn provided photos that she says show that Dyson physically harmed her and her cat. She said she once told a friend that she wanted her story out in case something happened to her.

"I don't care anymore about embarrassment. Nothing anyone can say to me can hurt me," Blackburn said.  "Sam has already done enough damage to me."

* * *

Several of Blackburn's friends, both within the baseball community and in her former workplaces, suspected something was amiss over the past few years. They did not, however, understand the full scope of what she went through until recently.

One of Blackburn's closest friends and co-workers in Dallas (Dyson played for the Texas Rangers from 2015-17), Cami (who asked that her last name be withheld), remembers how odd she found certain things that Blackburn would tell her about their relationship in an off-hand way – that Dyson didn't like her wearing her hair or makeup a certain way, or for her to wear white shirts.

Cami also did not like that Dyson would "surprise" Blackburn at their place of employment, at a department store at Galleria Mall. She told Blackburn she felt like Dyson was checking up on her, not trying to surprise her.

"When you're in a relationship, it's hard to see (things) from an outside perspective," Cami said. "I just thought what was happening was not a good situation and I voiced my opinion multiple times."

Shortly after Cami raised that point, Blackburn quit her job and blocked her on her social media accounts. Cami spent years wondering what she did wrong, and why her friend suddenly went silent. Blackburn said she told Dyson about Cami's concerns and that Dyson told her Cami was a bad influence.

Cami wasn't the only friend Dyson allegedly tried to discourage Blackburn from seeing. Blackburn got along well with another woman in the Dallas MLB community, who dated one of Dyson's teammates. They both enjoyed the same sarcastic sense of humor and gravitated toward each other.

When the friend hung out with Dyson and Blackburn together, she filed away snarky, demeaning comments Dyson made to Blackburn, but began to notice a stark change in Blackburn after she quit her job. She seemed less upbeat and more withdrawn. It felt to the friend like Blackburn was flourishing with her work and, after quitting her job, her self-confidence and exuberance waned.

"She just didn't seem like herself," she remembers.

Blackburn's friend, who worked at a bar at the time, offered to help Blackburn get a job within the service industry. That idea was quickly shut down by Dyson, Blackburn said. Blackburn eventually withdrew from the friend as well. Thinking back, the friend struggles to remember more than a handful of times Blackburn hung out with her on her own. Often they'd hang out in groups, with their boyfriends.

"I wasn't able to be friends with her anymore because she worked at a bar and 'only sluts worked at bars,'" Blackburn said. "He was scared that if I hung out with her, I'd be hit on by her patrons, by somebody else that wasn't him and that I would leave him."

There were other ways Dyson would try to assert control over her, Blackburn says. He'd grow angry over things like how she colored her hair or which clothes she wore, frequently lashing out when he didn't approve. After the two broke up, he texted her a list of things "I needed from u [sic] that you couldn't do," including "Stop rubbing ur [sic] eyes and face, stop asking about engagement, stop asking for reassurance, be more self driven, stop with ur [sic] internal battles, stop itching and scratching, stop ur self doubt and stop eating junk food daily."

Dyson was traded to the Giants in 2017. According to those who knew her from the San Francisco MLB community, Blackburn was friendly but not very social. She kept to herself. Some chalked it up to her being new to that team's dynamic.

In November, when news broke about what she detailed in her Instagram post, several women who knew the couple in San Francisco tried to think back to potential warning signs. There were no obvious red flags, but the general consensus was not one of shock. 

* * *

MLB provides annual training for players on a variety of issues — domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse — through Futures Without Violence, a community-based non-profit organization that specializes in these areas. Additionally, the league posts bilingual signage in designated areas of the ballpark — the clubhouse and family rooms — providing information for ten accredited resources in different areas of expertise. Major and minor league players also have access to 24/7 confidential hotline services operated by third-party groups to provide prevention best practices, counseling and other forms of support.

In addition to the helpline, additional resources are available through BAT (Baseball Assistance Team), an organization created by former players that, among its many functions, provides help with housing, financial concerns and other areas for those impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.

MLB and the MLBPA, when crafting the joint domestic-violence policy, promulgated prevention and education components separate from the policy's disciplinary arm. To further prevention and education efforts, the union employs a consultant, Diane Margolin, who gives presentations on player programs and resources at conferences for players' partners and spouses on issues involving healthy relationships. Margolin, who has practiced family law for decades and has volunteered for years at a New Jersey Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Crisis Center, also follows up with those groups and separately with players during the spring and summer. She shares the hotline number, which is available 24-7 by text or call and is broadly available, not just to spouses or partners, but also to other family members. The program is not exclusive. Officials encourage those who need help to seek out other domestic violence resources in the community as needed.

However, the overall support system provided by MLB and the MLBPA is not foolproof. The Athletic reached out to six women within the MLB community. Most felt that any information that was made available was nominal, and inconvenient or difficult to access. At least two others felt that those resources were not widely known.

One woman pointed out that materials and numbers to call are generally disseminated to players at the beginning of spring training, which by default designates them as the point of contact should a spouse or partner need help. But if that spouse or partner is the problem, that creates an obstruction in seeking help. And considering isolation is often a tactic of control in abusive relationships, a spouse or partner may not have access to others who can guide them to the appropriate resources.

"I definitely think there is a hurdle in that aspect, for sure," said the woman, who assisted Blackburn in seeking help.

Said Blackburn: "I went from Miami to Texas to San Francisco to Minnesota and never realized there were sanctioned people for each team to reach out to." 

Blackburn ultimately learned of these resources when the wife of one of Dyson's teammates in San Francisco reached out and directed her to a contact with MLB security. Another woman who is married to an MLB team staff member also led her to resources through the BAT.

Blackburn said the BAT program was helpful during a time of critical need — providing her with financial assistance in seeking therapy – but she could have used that help earlier. 

Reidy, who cooperated with an investigation into her ex-partner Addison Russell, said she doesn't recall seeing any signage to provide resources or help: "Nope. Never saw one."

After the Instagram post, Blackburn's attorney received an email from Dyson's lawyer, who wrote that Blackburn's comments were "offensive and defamatory in nature." In response, Blackburn's attorney wrote that Dyson should "keep his hands to himself."

Over 10 months after she went public with her ordeal, Blackburn has good days and bad days, but she said she's feeling stronger than she has in years. She is at a healthier weight and notices a satisfying fullness to her cheeks when she smiles. She is in therapy and working in real estate. She is building a small home on her grandmother's property in Georgia, and she is enjoying yard work and gardening. She spends time with her family, and her cat, who now sleeps with her at night.

"I was made to believe I'm crazy for six years and that I'm worthless, that I'm an emotional wreck and I'm not mentally stable," said Blackburn. "I didn't do this to myself."

If you or someone you know needs help dealing with domestic violence, The National Domestic Violence Hotline is accessible by calling 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or by visiting the website at thehotline.org.

The Athletic's Britt Ghiroli contributed to this story.


allan said...

This story is currently behind The Athletic's paywall. I thought it should be available for non-subscribers, also.

Jere said...


Steve said...

Thank you, Allan.

FenFan said...

Thank you, Allan!

laura k said...

God this is fucking maddening.