Family members believe CTE brain disease may have contributed to Ryan Freel's suicide. A medical examination revealed the former Major League Baseball player had stage 2 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can cause erratic behavior. The 36-year-old committed suicide in December 2012.
Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine explained that the disease was likely caused by severe head trauma. Robert Stern, co-founder of the university's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, said the disease is attributed to "repetitive brain trauma... not just a couple of big concussions."
As reported by CNN, Stern estimates that Freel "hit his head multiple times... in baseball and outside of baseball." Repeated trauma eventually leads to an overproduction of tau, which is a protein contained within the brain's cells. As the protein spills out of cells it eventually interferes with neural pathways.
In the early stages, CTE brain disease causes confusion. As the tau builds up, patients experience memory loss, fearlessness, lack of judgement, and erratic behavior. As the disease progresses, patients eventually experience devastating dementia.
Family members reveal that Freel suffered many concussions throughout his life. As a child he suffered two concussions, one which left him unconscious. They estimate he had at least eight more during his MLB career.
Jackson.com reports that Freel's family noticed a marked decline in his mental stability in the months leading up to his death.
Ryan Freel's stepfather, Clark Vargas, said the diagnosis will help the family find closure:
"It provides some solace that there is a reason now for Ryan having done what he did... Knowing that he's been suffering for 11 years... it gives explanation [for] some of the irrational things that he may have done."
The diagnosis underlines the dangers associated with playing sports. Although baseball is not considered a contact sport, concussions and head injuries are not uncommon. In a statement, an official with Major League Baseball expressed sympathy for Freel's family. The statement also addressed an effort to reduce the number of player injuries:
"We recently met in person with Ryan's mother and stepfather and expressed to them our feelings about Ryan and discussed MLB's continued efforts to provide a safe environment for our players."
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