Sunday, December 15, 2013

Findings conclude Ryan Freel suffering from degenerative brain disease at time of death

The family of the late Ryan Freel announced that the former Major League Baseball player was suffering from a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy when he committed suicide in December 2012. The family made the announcement during a mass on Sunday paying tribute to the Jacksonville native.

According to a report on, Freel's mother and stepfather, Norma and Clark Vargas, were presented with the findings from the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopahty and Sports Legacy Institute on Dec. 11, which is the same day MLB approved a ban on collisions at home plate. Representatives from MLB also received a copy of the findings on Freel.

According to the studies, Freel was suffering from Stage II CTE at the time of his death. Some of the symptoms he endured included bad headaches, loss of attention and concentration, depression, explositivity, and short-term memory loss. Freel's stepfather said the entire contents of the report will be published in a medical journal in early-2014.

The findings helped bring some closure to Freel's family after his unexpected passing.

"Oh yes [it's helpful], especially for the girls," Norma Vargas said of Freel's three 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."

Freel, who was known as a scrappy player and gritty competitor over the course of his eight-year career, once claimed to have suffered "nine or ten" concussions during his playing career. Before retiring in 2010, Freel's career was littered with various dents and dings caused by his fearless playing style. A fan favorite, Freel often had no problem putting his body on the line for his team, leading to many plays where he slammed into a wall to make a catch, barrelled over a catcher at home plate, or pushed his body to great lengths to stretch out to make a diving catch.

During his last few years, Freel started experiencing erratic behavior associated with his undiagnosed CTE condition, including bouts with depression and anxiety, which had originally been attributed to his adult attention deficit disorder diagnosis. Those close to Freel said they saw a noticeable decline in Freel's mental state over the final years of his life.

There continues to be a growing concern over the incurable disease (CTE) as more and more athletes have been diagnosed. The late football star Junior Seau was diagnosed with the disease after committing suicide and former NFL running back Tony Dorsett recently revealed that he has been diagnosed with CTE, too. Dorsett is among the few athletes who have been diagnosed while still living.

Freel spent six seasons with the Reds from 2003-2008 where he batted .272/.357/.377 with 140 stolen bases. He was traded to the Baltimore Orioles prior to the 2009 season and bounced around from the Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals before calling it quits in '10.

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