Some lead lives whose matches’ burn out brighter and quicker than the rest of us. In this situation, it seems that Ryan Freel was a member of that category.
With the news that upon his death, Freel had CTE on the brain (a common injury for retired football players who had an innumerable amount of concussions), the cause of his suicide begins to come even more clear. When former All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau took his own life in his home, he neglected the quick route of death with a shot to the head, and opted for one to the chest in order to protect his brain.
Mark Fainaru-Wana and Steve Fainaru can best document the amount of work done by countless people concerning CTE around the NFL in the book “League of Denial”. Baseball though, is supposed to be different. Outside of Ray Chapman in 1920 taking a wild pitch to the head from Carl Mays, no one has ever died while playing a Major League Baseball game. Players aren’t consumed in their later years by the injuries they sustained from the sport that allowed them to live so large.
Freel never made an exorbitant sum of money while playing during his 8-year career that was mostly with the Reds, but also featured appearances with the Blue Jays, Royals, Cubs and Orioles. His style was one that many fans will be hard-pressed to forget, as he was the embodiment of giving up his body for the team. He played, and nearly excelled, at every position except pitcher and catcher, and his speed may have not been the blazing kind, but there was no doubt that he could run once he got a head full of steam.
He has said that he “assumes he had 9 or 10 concussions” in his life, which goes to show the level of damage that could have been done to that afflicted area over the course of his career in baseball. Concussions are tricky injuries to portray due to the lack of visibility that is presented. There is no cast or sling to show your injury, and in a society where toughness is one of the premier valued traits, coming back too soon from something like a concussion is not the worst thing that an athlete can do.
With the elimination of home plate collisions for the upcoming season, Major League Baseball has opened its eyes to an epidemic that is not reserved for the barbaric NFL. Freel may have not been squatting behind the dish and taking the opposition’s best shoulder tackle, but he was making running catches and slamming headfirst into walls that may or may not have had the adequate amount of padding.
It would be a shame to take that feature out of today’s game. Many have criticized Bryce Harper for his reckless style of play; and applaud Robinson Cano for taking two steps down the first base line on a ground out to the infield because it “saves his legs.” At the end of the day, give me a team full of Ryan Freel’s and while they may not produce the gaudy or flashy numbers, they’ll be exciting to watch and play the game hard. I hope that many can learn and grow from the experiences that Freel went through and realize that this concussion business is certainly no joke.