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Are Traumatic Brain Injuries Happening Outside the World of Football?

By: Allan Siegel

The tragic story of Ryan Freel, which made headlines last month, is shedding light on what many in the sports world have long suspected. The long term symptoms of traumatic brain injuries, specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), affect more than just football players. We have discussed CTE in depth in our previous blogs. It is a degenerative brain disease which can cause depression, anxiety, memory loss, difficulty with balance, executive dysfunction, aggression, and suicidality.

Ryan Freel openly admitted that he suffered numerous concussions throughout his Major League Baseball (MLB) career. Sportswriter Barry Petchesky described Freel as tough, "in baseball parlance, that means hustling on every pitch, giving up your body to make the play." He added, "these types of players are celebrated, of course."

Ryan Freel CTE

Freel was exciting to watching, and approached every game with great enthusiasm. His dedication to each play, however, had its dangerous consequences. In December of 2012, Ryan Freel committed suicide at the young age of 36. His family chose to donate his brain to science in order study the long term effects an athlete's career can have on his body. The report was recently released finding conclusively that Freel was suffering from Stage II CTE when he died. Professional football players currently living with the disease report experiencing depression so severe that thoughts of suicide can occur frequently.

Freel was the first MLB player to be officially diagnosed with CTE. It is proof that other traumatic brain injuries, not just the continuous helmet-to-helmet impacts experienced by football players, can cause CTE. Traumatic brain injuries can occur in a wide variety of sports, from soccer to horseback riding to cheerleading. Trainers and coaches have started to take note. In particular, the MLB has announced that it will ban home plate collisions by 2015. Ryan Freel has left us with a legacy of an incredible player that was dedicated to the game he loved, and his death has helped to heighten the awareness of the devastating consequences of CTE. In future blogs, we will discuss how you can help teach your young athletes to play safe, to avoid a concussion, and to recognize concussions when they occur.