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Traumatic brain injury led to baseball player's suicide


Baseball fans from Connecticut were always impressed by Ryan Freel's athletic play. The outfielder would leap and dive with reckless abandon in pursuit of the ball, often hitting outfield walls and other players.

Freel estimated that he suffered more than 10 concussions during his career. Family members reckon he may have suffered even more that that. They eventually took their toll, abruptly ending his career in 2010 and probably leading him to commit suicide in 2012.

Recently, after researchers released test results from a postmortem brain tissue test, Freel was declared to have been the first MLB player with identifiable chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE means that a person's brain is degenerating.

The term CTE has received worldwide attention ever since the first National Football League players were diagnosed with the disease. However, a diagnosis of CTE in a baseball player suggests that traumatic brain injury can be the result of injuries in even less aggressive sports such as baseball as well as hard-contact sports such as football, ice hockey and boxing.

Off the field, the former baseball player was depressed and had substance abuse problems. Whether the concussions had a significant role in Freel's depression has yet to be determined. Nonetheless, Major League Baseball is working on measures to prevent head injuries, including enforcing a ban on collisions between runners and catchers at home plate.

The baseball player's early demise was a sad ending to a promising career. His case can and should serve as a wakeup call that head trauma, no matter how mild it may seem, should never be taken lightly. Any New Haven resident who sustains head trauma in sports, at work or in an accident should seek advice from a personal injury professional especially if the cause is another person's negligence.

Source: The Atlantic, "The First Baseball Player Diagnosed With Chronic Traumatic Brain Injury," Olga Khazan. Dec. 16, 2013

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