In recent years, concussions and their long-term effects have been a major topic of conversation on the football field. Now, that conversation is happening in the dugout. According to new findings from Boston University School of Medicine, former Cincinnati Reds player Ryan Freel, who committed suicide last year, was living with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease caused by repeated concussions. While many former professional football players have been diagnosed with CTE, Freel is the first baseball player to receive this diagnosis.
So what is CTE? CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including concussions and subconcussive hits to the head. Because of this, professional athletes in contact sports tend to be a very susceptible population. Symptoms of CTE may not appear for years after the last hit, and can include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression and progressive dementia. CTE has been found in several former professional football players who committed suicide, including Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, Andre Waters, Ray Easterling and Shane Dornett.
But Freel is the first baseball player to be diagnosed with CTE. According to Robert Stern, co-founder of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University, while baseball isn’t as significant a concussion sport compared to others, it is still concussion sport. According to MLB data, 18 players were placed on the disabled list this season after concussions, compared to 13 in 2012 and 11 in 2011. In response to increasing concussion diagnoses, MLB is instituting educational programs and rules changes, including a ban on home plate collisions. Freel’s case will no doubt bring more light to concussions in baseball. Freel’s stepfather Clark Vargas said it best in an interview with CNN:
We count everything else. We count the at-bats. We count the .300 hitter. We count the number of pitches and the pitcher cannot go more than a certain number of pitches. Why not count the number of concussions and pay special attention to this like everything else?
We couldn’t agree more. We are eager to see what changes the MLB will implement to ensure the health and safety of their players.