Former Cincinnati Reds player Ryan Freel was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he committed suicide last year, his family told the Florida Times-Union.
A report from the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephlopathy and Sports Legacy Institute was presented to Freel's family and Major League Baseball last week at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
Freel died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound last December, leaving behind three daughters.
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Freel's mother, Norma Vargas, told the newspaper that the diagnosis would help the family.
"Oh yes [it's helpful], especially for the girls," Vargas told the Times-Union. "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."
After a collision with Norris Hopper in the outfield in 2007, Freel told a group of reporters — including the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay and me — that he'd suffered "nine or 10" concussions in his life. Two years later, as a member of the Orioles, he was put on the disabled list after being hit in the head by an errant pickoff throw.
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Freel is the first former baseball player to have his brain studied by the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and the first to be diagnosed with the disease.
CTE has been at the center of football's increased awareness of concussions and the effects on those who suffer from them. While CTE is usually associated with the so-called "contact sports" such as football, boxing and hockey, Major League Baseball has recently added a seven-day disabled list for head injuries.
Freel played six of his Major League seasons in Cincinnati, becoming a fan-favorite because of his all-out hustle and often reckless style of play. Signed as a free agent with the Reds following the 2002 season, the Reds traded him to Baltimore in 2008 along with Brandon Waring and Justin Turner to the Orioles for Ramon Hernandez.
He played just 41 games in 2009, his final season in the big leagues. He played just nine games for the Orioles before ebbing traded to the Cubs and finally the Royals in 2009.
C. Trent Rosecrans writes for the Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett property.