With more information surfacing about how brain injuries can impact athletes during their careers, and even after retirement, protective measures have been taken in an attempt to reduce the number of collisions to the head.
Now, the MLB has its first diagnosed case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy—commonly known as CTE—on its hands. Former major leaguer Ryan Freel was found to have the incurable disease prior to committing suicide on Dec. 22, 2012, according to Justin Barney of The Florida Times-Union.
Freel was a journeyman who played for five different organizations during a nine-year career, including the Cincinnati Reds from 2003 through 2008. On the field, he commonly risked his body and would run into walls, as Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com pointed out:
The discovery was made at the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and Sports Legacy Institute, the same institute that has been studying CTE in football players and other athletes since 2008.
Robert Stern, the co-founder of the University Center, told CNN's Stephanie Smith and Dan Moriarty that the findings in Freel's brain were likely from repetitive hits to the head:
The real important issue is that he hit his head multiple times—small hits, big hits, in baseball and outside of baseball. When it comes to the development of CTE, our current sense is that it requires repetitive brain trauma and not just a couple of big concussions.
In order to reduce the risk of head injuries, the MLB is in the process of removing home-plate collisions. While the move has been both praised and scrutinized by current and former players and coaches, it appears the discovery of CTE in a former player might make the move look like a proactive one.
Though Freely was a utility player—playing nearly every position except for catcher during his professional career—it still appears the league needs to take action to reduce the likelihood of concussions in any way possible.