Former MLB player Ryan Freel committed suicide on December 22, 2012, at the age of 36. It has now been reported that Freel suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative brain disease. A report compiled by the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and Sports Legacy Institute concluded that the athlete suffered from Stage II CTE. Freel was the first MLB player to have his brain researched by the Boston University Center. According to the study, Freel experienced “9 or 10” concussions during his 8-year career in the majors.
Norma Vargas, Ryan Freel’s mother, said that the diagnosis will provide closure for the rest of the family, especially his three daughters. “Oh yes [it’s helpful], especially for the girls. We adults can understand a little better. It’s a closure for the girls who loved their dad so much and they knew how much their dad loved them. It could help them understand why he did what he did. Maybe not now, but one day they will,” Vargas said.
Freel’s stepfather, Clark Vargas, discussed his discouragement that the diagnosis came after Ryan’s death. “It’s a release in that there was a physical reason for what he did. On the other side for me, Ryan fell through the cracks. He was seen by the heads of Duke, then a whole bunch of other people since he came back, Mayo. All those guys couldn’t put it together,” he said.
There is a relationship between athletes involved in competitive sports and the CTE disease. According to Thomas McAllister, M.D., Vice Chair for Neuroscience Research at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, competitive football players may experience up to 8,000 strikes to the head during the span of a career.
According to Chris Nowinski, who is the Co-Founder and Executive Director at Sports Legacy Institute, any type of trauma to the brain can potentially lead to a diagnosis of CTE. However, the diagnosis depends on multiple conditions such as severity of trauma, the amount of traumatic events, and other extraneous factors.
“I think this will educate a new group of people who may never have heard of the football findings, the hockey findings. CTE can be caused by any brain trauma,” Nowinski said.
[Image Via Wikimedia Commons]