Last year pro baseball player Ryan Freel committed suicide at the age of 36. Today, nearly a year after his death, he has the distinction of being the first Major League Baseball Player who has been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), according to a group of researched at Boston University School of Medicine. During his eight-year career with five MLB clubs, Freel estimated that he had 10 concussions. Family members say it was likely higher than that. Freel was unafraid to fling his body into plays, often diving after balls or crashing into outfield walls. This is part of what earned him a spot in the Big Leagues and ultimately, a string of concussions.
Robert Stern, co-founder of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at BU stated that “the real important issue is that hit his head multiple times- small hits, big hits.” After Freel’s death, his brain tissue was examined and it was found that he had Stage 2 CTE. This stage is generally associated with erratic behavior and memory loss.
Clark Vargas, Freel’s stepfather, said “It provides some solace that there is a reason now for Ryan having done what he did. Knowing that he’s been suffering for 11 years and that CTE is a progressive disease. It gives explanation (for) some of the irrational things that he may have done. You know, he had a reason”. “We count everything else. 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?” his stepfather said.
The disease tends to be associated with bruising sports like football and hockey. You may recall the recent NFL concussion lawsuits that resulted in a $765 Million settlement. Recently, professional hockey players filed similar concussion-related litigation against the National Hockey League.
This season, 18 baseball players were placed on the disabled list after concussions. 10 of these players were catchers. In 2012, 13 players were placed on the disabled list after a concussion, and in 2011, MLB data shows the number was 11. Freel’s mother, Norma, stated “I think people don’t realize that baseball players get hurt as much as they do. Baseball is just as dangerous as other sports.” Players only wear a helmet when batting.
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Stern, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at BU’s School of Medicine states “I cringe when I see two guys going after the same ball. Is baseball as significant a concussion sport compared to others? No. Is it a concussion sport? Yes.” Sunday evening, the MLB said it was working with experts to “remain proactive on concussions and head injuries”
If a lawsuit is filed against the MLB pertaining to concussion related injuries of former players, then MLB is likely not vulnerable in the same manner the NFL was. The NFL tried to control the dialogue on player concussions by forming the MBTI Committee. When that Committee ignored multiple studies showing a strong correlation between repeated concussions and long-term mental impairment and then misinformed players about the risks, its actions moved from negligent to fraudulent.
However, the MLB should not ignore medical consensus on the dangers of concussions. Baseball should take proactive steps to protect players from injury. This could mean tougher penalties on pitchers who throw intentionally at a batter’s head. This could even mean revisiting or reformatting the rules relating to home plate collisions. Recent dialogue at Baseball’s Winter Meetings, discussed the likely ban on home plate collisions. As previously mentioned, 10 of the 18 diagnoses instances of head injuries last season were suffered by catchers.
Regardless of whether the MLB could face liability for damages for past injuries, the league should take steps to heighten player safety because it’s better for the players and the game as whole. And of course, it is just the right thing to do in the light of such potential dangers.
Traumatic Brain Injuries suffered in the course of a sports career are not too dissimilar from catastrophic head injuries suffered during automobile and motorcycle accidents each day. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA stands up for the rights of injured parties affected by the negligence of others. We can be reached for a free case evaluation and consultation via telephone at 727-451-6900.