Watching Ryan Freel play defense on a baseball field has been likened to “watching crash dummies in a seat belt test” and “bungee-jumping without the bungee.”
In Cincinnati, where he spent most of his eight seasons in the big leagues, Freel’s No. 6 jersey became synonymous to fans, teammates and opponents with playing the game the right way. That meant crashing into walls, sliding headfirst, jumping and diving to get to the ball, doing whatever was needed to make the play. The constant headaches, blurry vision and spotty memory were there, too. But that was baseball for Freel.
In January 2013, Freel’s number switched to VABT-13144. He was no longer described as a 5-foot-10, 185-pound utility man. Instead, the VA Medical Center in Bedford, Massachusetts, labeled his specimen type as “fixed brain fragments.”
As the NFL nears an end to its long-running legal battle over concussions, new data from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on traumatic brain injury has found evidence of a degenerative brain disease in 76 of the 79 former players it’s examined.
The findings represent a more than twofold increase in the number of cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, that have been reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository in Bedford, Mass. Researchers there have now examined the brain tissue of 128 football players who, before their deaths, played the game professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school. Of that sample, 101 players, or just under 80 percent, tested positive for CTE.