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Ryan Freel had chronic traumatic encephalopathy

Dec 15, 2013, 1:59 PM EDT

ryan freel getty Getty Images

Ryan Freel died last December from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after an eight-year major league playing career during which he claimed to have suffered 10 concussions. Believing there to be a link between the suicide and Freel’s multiple incidents of head trauma, Freel’s family donated his brain to the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, where many football players and boxers have been tested and studied for CTE.

CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is an incurable brain disease clinically associated with symptoms of irritability, impulsivity, aggression, depression, short-term memory loss and heightened suicidality.

Freel, the center has discovered, was suffering from Stage II CTE at the time of his death.

“It’s a release in that there was a physical reason for what he did,” Clark Vargas, Freel’s stepfather, told Justin Barney of the Florida Times-Union. “On the other side for me, Ryan fell through the cracks. … We’re keeping track of pitch counts, can we keep track of how many guys are hit on the head?”

  1. djpostl - Dec 15, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    “We’re keeping track of pitch counts, can we keep track of how many guys are hit on the head?”

    So true. It is truly amazing that we know that in spite of how much we’ve learned about the human brain in the last deacde or so we STILL are just scratching the surface of things.

    Yet time and time again we see athletes suffer a blow to the head and people still act like we shouldn’t be concerned, shouldn’t err on the side of caution when dealing with their recorvery.

    • paperlions - Dec 15, 2013 at 2:54 PM

      In addition, it is highly likely that a majority of the damage for these guys happens in HS and college. I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that Freel was a balls-to-the-wall type of football player in high school. Younger brains are more susceptible to damage and the long-term effects can be more severe.

    • ezthinking - Dec 15, 2013 at 3:03 PM

      and yet people ran down Bobby Abreu for not running through walls. Everyone loved Freel’s dives and plowing into walls, and similar all-out efforts from other players. Not sure how many pitched ball hits he actually took to the head. No doubt devastating if he took some. But it is still a teaching point.

      After the running down of Cano, or Hank Aaron in his day, or Ted Williams or the like, they stayed on the field and didn’t take needless hits where they could avoid it. Some hits happen, some are self-inflicted. “All-out” should not equal “stupid.”

      No matter the cause, understanding the result of head trauma is essential.

      Thank you to the Freel family for their action in trying to understand Ryan’s death and putting the information out there.

  2. junglerat524 - Dec 15, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    Sorta figured that considering the way he played.

  3. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 15, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    While I will try to not jump to conclusions about the potential sports-CTE-suicide connections, I am glad that people are studying this to try to answer those questions. Information is never a bad thing, and the more we know the more we will be able to prevent tragedies in the future.

  4. 18thstreet - Dec 15, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    It’s all so awful. Rest in peace, Ryan. I enjoyed watching you play, and I hope that your death was not in vain.

  5. junglegrowler - Dec 15, 2013 at 9:57 PM

    Ryan played with reckless abandon. He was…no is one of my favorite Reds players ever. I’d like to hear what Pete Rose has to say about Ryan’s style of play. Great outfielder..

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