Former Cincinnati Reds player Ryan Freel has become the first Major League Baseball player to be diagnosed with a chronic traumatic brain injury. Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine tested Freel’s brain tissue after he committed suicide one year ago. The researchers recently released the results of the testing, stating that Freel suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Freel was discovered to be in Stage 2 of the disease, the effects of which are typically memory loss and erratic behavior. It is estimated that Freel endured at least 10 concussions during his baseball career. The final stage of the disease, stage 4, is associated with total dementia, paranoia and aggressive behavior.
CTE has become known as a disease related to recurrent concussions and has typically been seen only in pro-football and some hockey players. With the diagnosis of a former major league baseball player, it is suggested that the disease can affect much less aggressive types of sports.
Recently, after many years of denying that that the League was aware of any causal relationship between football and brain injuries, the NFL agreed to a $765 million settlement with thousands of former NFL players alleging they suffered from lingering effects of repeated concussions sustained while playing professionally for the NFL. The lawsuit claimed that the League was “aware of the evidence and risks associated with traumatic brain injuries for many decades, but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information from players.”
Not long ago, professional hockey players have filed an analogous head-injury related lawsuit against the National Hockey League.
Should current and former professional baseball players decide to file a similar suit against the MLB, it is possible that the MLB may not be as vulnerable to liability as the NFL was. This is because the NFL formed the MBTI committee to investigate concussion – brain injury links and ignored several studies indicating a strong correlation between the two. Further, the NFL is accused of acting intentionally, rather than negligently, by misinforming football players about risks associated with concussions.
Still, the MLB should be mindful of the medical community’s agreement on the complications associated with concussions and take proper measures to appropriately protect its players. Any time an employer is aware of particular dangers in the workplace, they have a duty to adequately inform employees of the danger or protect them from such.
Representatives of the MLB have stated that in an effort to prevent additional head injuries to its players, they are creating a ban on home plate collisions.