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Ryan Freel’s chilling final days

Dec 18, 2013, 1:40 PM EDT

ryan freel getty Getty Images

We learned over the weekend that Ryan Freel, who took his own life a year ago this Sunday, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a condition caused by concussions and which has been linked to suicide.

But Freel suffered from so much more. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADD and depression. He was an alcoholic with impulse control problems and anger issues. He was addicted to baseball and the thrill it gave him and was unable to find happiness in his life when his career ended. He seriously abused steroids in a vain effort to make a baseball comeback and ballooned in size. He became estranged from his family and surrounded himself with guns. Just as he hit bottom, his mother took all of his guns away from him. Or so she thought. His final words to anyone before taking his own life came in a text message to his mom: “you forgot one.”

Back in April, Brett Popplewell of SportsNet told the story of Freel’s downward spiral and final days. It’s reposted today in the wake of the CTE diagnosis and the approach of the anniversary of Freel’s death. It’s a difficult yet gripping read. And one anyone who forgets that there is a human side to the athletes who entertain us every day should take in as soon as possible.

  1. barrywhererufrom - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    What a.sad.story..I just hope that one day that their no more.deaths from cte

  2. schlom - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:58 PM

    I can understand how a football player gets multiple concussions which could lead to CTE but how does a baseball player (other than a catcher)?

    • yahmule - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:08 PM

      You can get a concussion by landing badly on a diving catch attempt or even a head first slide. Once you’ve had one concussion, you’re more susceptible to future concussions. We don’t know what kind of head trauma he might sustained growing up.

      Chilling is certainly a correct description for his final words. My heart really goes out to his mom.

    • DelawarePhilliesFan - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:12 PM

      To add to what yahmule said – if you ever have time, watch the recent “Frontline” special about the NFL and CTE. Bottom line: the brain can receive trauma from any sort of jarring hit, it does not have to rise to the level of a concussion – though those are certainly worse. It’s really scary stuff

    • paperlions - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:29 PM

      It is also likely that Freel played other sports when he was younger. Very possible that if he played JH and HS football, that much of the damage was from that.

    • fearlessleader - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:54 PM

      From the article: “His mother, Norma, recalled how when he was three, he ran into the street and smacked his head into the side of a moving car. His father, Patrick, remembered rushing him to hospital a few years later after he’d tied a cape around his neck and dived from a workbench, smashing his skull into a concrete floor. His stepfather, Clark, noted he’d knocked himself out in a high school football practice. His ex-wife, Christie, recounted how he used to come home from games and tell her he’d blacked out sliding into bases. There were 10 concussions at least. Probably more.”

  3. cocheese000 - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    Alcohol can be extremely dangerous when certain types of people use it.

    • chinahand11 - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:57 PM

      I’m not sure what meds he was on, but some psych meds are absolutely lethal when you mix alcohol with them. The “buzz” grows exponentially with each sip of liquor or beer or whatev.

  4. louhudson23 - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    Much of his erratic behavior seems in line with someone with CTE.Not sure how that is so much more.Just a lot of one thing…a traumatic and chronic brain injury…

    • paperlions - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:30 PM


      CTE is the physical condition. All of the rest are the symptoms of that condition.

  5. shanabartels - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    What a sad story. It seems like Freel was somewhat troubled even before the CTE fully set in; once it reached the point where he struggled so much to function with simple daily tasks, maybe there wasn’t a whole lot anyone could do to save him. I mean, if he tried several alcohol rehab programs (which of course was a step in the right direction, but alcoholism was only one of a set of serious issues Freel dealt with) but habitually quit each program before completion… I guess what I’m trying to say is that he had more than the average set of challenges for an addict to overcome. Brain injuries are a very tricky thing.

    I’m not passing judgment here. My late grandfather was a lifelong alcoholic, and while he had some long periods of clarity and he was a brilliant and extremely accomplished person, he also had some serious demons. My grandfather went to rehab at least five times. It would stick for a while, but ultimately one Thursday in November 2004 he had a couple of martinis for lunch (we found the receipt), headed toward home in his car, and hit a tree at full speed, which killed him. He may or may not have done it on purpose.

    Sometimes the demons win. If it’s happening to someone you care about, don’t stop trying. Fight the good fight. But sometimes the demons win.

    • yahmule - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:37 PM

      Very important advice, Shana. Never stop trying to help people you care about in this kind of situation. Addicts become very adept at deflecting attempts at help, but they notice when people stop trying and they assume nobody cares anymore. When people are left alone to live inside their disease, they can succumb to a weak moment of despair and end it all.

      • shanabartels - Dec 19, 2013 at 1:37 AM

        As with all things in life, no matter how much you try to convince someone to do something to help himself/herself, it often falls upon deaf ears until the person makes up his/her own mind to do it. This is of course even more difficult with addicts. But with the head injuries… I mean, even if Freel hadn’t already had a history of depression and addiction, the effects of the head injuries alone are probably more than people like us can even begin to understand.

        I get migraines pretty often. I had a pretty bad one today, in fact. The mere thought of what those post-concussion syndrome headaches must be like almost makes me want to have a panic attack just thinking about it. Obviously, attempting to self-medicate with alcohol just ends up compounding that problem. This was just a really awful combination of circumstances for Freel.

  6. themagicfanguy - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    That’s got to be the most chilling text message I’ve ever read. Horrible.

    • thebadguyswon - Dec 18, 2013 at 8:05 PM

      More like disturbing. Basically taunted his mother on his way out the door.

  7. deathmonkey41 - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:11 PM

    The steroids probably didn’t help much either.

  8. rdillon99 - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    I can’t imagine the feeling his mother must have had upon reading that text message.

  9. paperlions - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    One of the worst parts of the story is seeing all of the horribly unqualified doctors doling out diagnoses and prescriptions. Your average family practitioner is horrible at diagnosing any mental illness, they simply don’t know enough to differentiate between ADHD, bi-polar disorder, depression, anxiety, etc. They just guess and write prescriptions. All of those things affect brain chemistry…and the interactions can be horrific. Sadly, it is not uncommon for doctors to ignore the effects of drugs they (or someone else) have already prescribed while offering new or different diagnoses. In this case, they put him on a stimulant, added a sedative, and they just threw the pharmacy at him. Yeah, I’m sure that helped.

    • chinahand11 - Dec 18, 2013 at 4:08 PM

      Thank you Paperlions, the amateur docs on this site aren’t as bad as usual, I have to say. You hit the target, I merely wanted to add another angle. I’ve been a psychiatric nurse for quite a while, and I don’t know everything, but I’m always willing to learn. Your doctors, even your shrinks, my guesstimate is that at least (at LEAST) 50% of doctors think they are by God right about everything. Example: Hey doc, Mr. Smith says he’s hearing voices. Doctor: He’s not a schizophrenic, he shouldn’t be hearing voices!. And the doc kept walking, and the patient kept weirding out because he was on the wrong meds, until a day later when we had to tackle him and light him up with some calming medications. This is TYPICAL. My advice to potential patients and loved ones: doctors are like car mechanics, they can be fired and replaced. Be discerning when you pick one.

      • paperlions - Dec 18, 2013 at 4:36 PM


        The car mechanic analogy is one I always use for doctors. That is EXACTLY what they are. They don’t design the cars, they don’t study them…they are not engineers or scientists…they are mechanics, nothing more.

        The reason this comes up personally is that I am a scientist (biologist, not in the medical research field), and I regularly ask my doctor things he can’t answer based on research I read online…he regularly dismissing anything I ask that he is unfamiliar with…which is what they all do. You can not stress enough how little most doctors know about most conditions, they aren’t specialists and they can not keep up with all of the advances in research.

        I understand that it is a hard job, and that they are expected to know the answers all the time. But admitting that you don’t know and then finding out the correct answer is the only way to be an effective practitioner. Too few doctors in my experience are good at diagnosis or admitting that they don’t know the answer.

      • dinofrank60 - Dec 18, 2013 at 5:31 PM

        chinahand11 and paperlions,
        You guys are so right. Really. This is something that needs to be said, out loud and out front. Thank you.

      • chinahand11 - Dec 18, 2013 at 11:27 PM

        Thank you Dinofrank60 for your nice compliment. See there, Paperlions? We’ve been complimented. So funny what you said about your doctor blowing you off when he is unfamiliar with the info/material you present him with. I am so used to that behavior in my profession; all nurses are, I imagine. “That doesn’t sound right to me,” is a standard declaration, and most doctors can utter that phrase while doing a head shake and NOT breaking stride. I’ll give one more story. Called a doctor late, like 10 pm. I say “Doc, your patient so-and-so is freaking out and attacking people. We have 6 people holding him down in the quiet room. What are your orders?” Doctor says “Did you check his blood pressure?” Argh! But I had, actually, knowing the doctor. It was sky high. What the heck did he think it would be? Sigh.

    • yahmule - Dec 19, 2013 at 12:09 PM

      I appreciate your input, too. Lions post about all these medical professionals cavalierly prescribing potentially dangerous drugs makes me sad and angry. No wonder Ryan resisted help in his final days. He was tired of getting jerked around.

  10. psuorioles - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:22 PM

    This is definitely a sad story, but with everything going on in this country these days… I’m just glad to he only took his own life and not others with him

  11. yahmule - Dec 18, 2013 at 4:36 PM

    That article by Brett Popplewell is really well written.

  12. baseballisboring - Dec 18, 2013 at 5:53 PM

    Obviously Freel’s story is extreme. That text message…oh my god…

    It also makes me wonder how many ex-ballplayers deal with depression after retiring, especially ones who never got super-rich.

  13. thebadguyswon - Dec 18, 2013 at 8:14 PM

    Another thing being left in the dark here is the alcohol and steriod use. Odds are they didn’t help matters.

  14. blingslade - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    Seems like this dude was a “F-Up” more than anything. I think blaming head injuries is just barking up the wrong tree.

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