A lot of attention has been paid this year to the issue of concussions in football — so much so that it's easy to overlook the impact of brain injuries in other sports.
Sunday will mark one year since Ryan Freel committed suicide. The eight-year Major League veteran was known for his all-out style of play, his willingness to crash into walls to make a play and an eccentric personality — he'd have conversations with voices in his head. He estimated he'd had nine or 10 concussions during his career. After his death at age 36, his family estimated it was closer to 15.
There was some speculation at the time of his death that concussions may have had something to do with the depression that ultimately drove the 36-year-old to take his own life. Freel's brain tissue was sent to be analyzed, and during last week's Winter Meetings, Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and Sports Legacy Institute presented their findings — Ryan Freel had Stage II Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy when he died. He's believed to be the first baseball player to be diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease.
For Freel's family, the diagnosis provides some closure — they now have an explanation. For baseball, it's eye-opening. The league voted to ban home plate collisions on the same day the Freel findings were presented.
While that timing is likely pure coincidence — the topic was debated for much of the summer — it's a move that should help provide some protection against concussions. There's only so much the league can do — after all, many of Freel's concussions came after he crashed into a wall or a teammate while trying to make a catch — but after seeing the beating the NFL is taking on player safety issues, it's easy to see why baseball is trying to get out in front of their own safety concerns.
This past year, 18 players (10 of them catchers) went on the DL with a concussion, up from 13 in 2012.