Ryan Freel Had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy: MLB Player's Family

Image: Ryan Freel Had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy: MLB Player's Family

Monday, 16 Dec 2013 03:09 PM

By Clyde Hughes

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Ryan Freel, the former Major League baseball star who committed suicide last year, became the first player from the league to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), his family told the Florida Times-Union on Sunday.

CTE, marked by a buildup of tau, an abnormal protein that strangles brain cells in areas that control memory, emotions, and other brain functions, commonly affects professional football players.

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Freel, who was 36 when he died, retired from baseball in 2010 after eight years in MLB. He said he suffered from "nine or 10" concussions through his career. Freel's family told the Florida Times-Union that the diagnosis gave them some closure.

"Oh yes [it's helpful], especially for the girls," Norma Vargas, Freel's mother, said referring to her son's children. "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."

CNN reported that tests on Freel's brain tissue after his death revealed that he had Stage 2 CTE, which is connected with erratic behavior and memory loss. Stage 4, the worst possible expression of the disease, is associated with full-blown dementia, aggression, and paranoia.

Freel's report, conducted by the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and Sports Legacy Institute, was presented to Norma Vargas, his stepfather Clark Vargas, and Major League Baseball representatives last week during the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Chris Nowinski, co-founder and executive director at the Sports Legacy Institute, said that he hopes the results will raise awareness about head trauma in sports.

"I think this will educate a new group of people who may never have heard of the football findings, the hockey findings," Nowinski told the Times-Union. "CTE can be caused by any brain trauma."

Freel's family and friends said that they saw significant mental decline in him over the final years. Researchers, though, have cautioned that CTE in and of itself can't be totally blamed when athletes take their own lives.

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