Report Finds MLB’s First Case of Degenerative Brain Disease in Former Player’s Suicide

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 16 2013 6:59 PM

Report Finds MLB’s First Case of Degenerative Brain Disease in Former Player’s Suicide

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Ryan Freel of the Chicago Cubs dives back to first base during a 2009 game.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A study released last week found that former Major League Baseball player Ryan Freel had the degenerative brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), when he committed suicide a year ago. Caused by repetitive brain trauma, CTE has become a hot button issue in the NFL and the sports world in general, raising questions about the safety of the athletes. Freel, an 8-year veteran who retired in 2010, is the first MLB player to be diagnosed with CTE, according to CNN.

Freel, who missed 30 games during the 2007 season because of a concussion he got colliding with a teammate, estimated that he had sustained up to 10 concussions during his playing days, the Associated Press reports. Near the end of his life, Time reports, “Freel had started to experience classic symptoms of CTE like depression, lack of impulse control and struggles with substance abuse.”

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Here’s more on the Boston University study from the Boston Globe:

After his death, his brain was studied by the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and Sports Legacy Institute. A report from the Institute was presented to Freel’s family and MLB last Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. Freel is the first baseball player to have his brain studied by the Institute and first to be diagnosed with the disease. The Institute has tested many football players and boxers for CTE. Freel’s family asked BU to study his brain because they believed there was a link between the suicide and the player’s many concussions.

Last week MLB announced that it planned to change the rules of the game, banning home plate collisions because of, in part, fears of head injuries. Brain injuries have been of growing concern in sports with more contact. Earlier this year, the NFL agreed to pay former players $765 million as part of a settlement in a case brought against the league by ex-players. Last month, a group of former NHL players filed suit against the league for brain injuries allegedly stemming from repeated concussions while playing.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.