Ryan Freel and wife Christie

Ryan Freel and wife Christie

Ryan Freel was a baseball player with a short but exciting career. He was one of those of lesser talent who substituted guts and hustle in its place. I watched him as a Cincinnati Red as he made spectacular plays, never avoiding the wall even when he should have. He earned the nickname “Pigpen” from fans, since his uniform was always torn and covered with dirt at the end of a game. He talked about a little man inside his head, “Farney.”

“He’s a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him. That little midget in my head said, ‘That was a great catch, Ryan,’ I said, ‘Hey, Farney, I don’t know if that was you who really caught that ball, but that was pretty good if it was.’ Everybody thinks I talk to myself, so I tell ’em I’m talking to Farney.”

He was none too bright but that does not matter in baseball, in fact, probably detracts. He was interesting. He did not give the standard boring baseball interview. He even called a former teammate “clubhouse poison,” describing a cardinal sin in baseball, where months in close quarters require a pleasant outlook and good sense of humor.

DIveing catchFarney committed suicide on December 22, 2012. I knew he had two DUI’s under his belt, but did not know the beginning of it. A postmortem examination showed that he was suffering from Stage II chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Too many concussions. This was the first solid scientific evidence of a connection between depression, suicide and sports injuries.

Freel left behind a lovely wife and a daughter. God rest ye, Farney. You were a good one.
Real Sports, an HBO presentation with Bryan Gumbel, Frank Deford and others, did a panel discussion on concussions in football, and it was a head-slapping moment for me. “Of course!” The panel suggests now that the domestic violence in the NFL is one symptom, along with the depressions and suicides, suggesting that repeated blows to the head are producing angry, violent and suicidally depressed young men.

Please note that panel member Bernard Goldberg uses the opportunity to state, without a shred of evidence, that the Russians shot down that jetliner in the Ukraine. This is America, and we cannot escape American propaganda, but this segment warrants attention even as Bernie goes batshit berserk.

About Mark Tokarski

Just a man who likes to read, argue, and occasionally be surprised.
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3 Responses to Farney

  1. Rob Kailey says:

    It will likely never cease to amaze me how easily people can trade ‘common sense’ for science, when it suits a popular agenda. It is likely indisputable that sustained neurological damage can lead to depression and suicide. So of course, it seems head-slappingly natural that concussions can ‘lead to’ domestic violence. The panel jumps on that train, with only a token ‘if’ for a caveat, and then go on to talk about, fan reaction, player motivation, Goodell and the shock-and-awe of the elevator video. Excuse me, but the ‘causal’ link has yet to be scientifically established, and only Andrea Kremer questions the real culture of misogyny in the NFL, and the pervasive nature of domestic abuse in wider society. The rest, of course, accept the psuedo-scientific explanation of a medical issue, and then ignore it by questioning the moral authority of the league and the corrupt morals of the sheeple fans with their short attention spans and all.

    Bernie read the quote about ‘conflicted fans’ and then took a big dump on it, as if he knows more than fans do about how fans feel. You would be very hard pressed to find a bigger fan of the NFL than I am, unless of course, you are willing to grade fandom on the degree of mindless support as the panel just did. That would be the textbook example of a circular argument, using your conclusion to support the argument itself. I’m not certain you are doing that, Mark, because frankly, I’m not sure what argument you are trying to make, if any. Speaking as a fan surrounded by other fans, none of whom were truly represented on that panel, we do tend to be conflicted about the damage that the game can cause to the players. The NFL spends a month wearing pink to get donations to the Komen Foundation. How about a month wearing purple to support research on neurological damages such as are faced by football players and the military? Hmmm.

    The domestic violence issues fans are not conflicted about. We don’t like it when it’s the dentist who lives next door, (highest rate of suicide among any profession save ex-military) or our team’s favorite running back. The league, and sports journalists, can’t have it both ways. Either it is a moral issue or a medical one. Bryant Gumbel, with his sad patronizing head shake at the inevitable dismissal of such an important moral issue by fans is truly gatekeeping for the status quo, blaming fans for the lack of obligation that owners feel to solve a problem. The fans have spoken, and the league needs to do something about domestic abuse among it’s players. That is clear. The media driving a narrative that it’s the fans fault for league inaction assures that inaction will continue.

    Here’s a thought for ‘Real Sports’. If you are going to discuss ‘player’s motivation’, which they did, why not have Eric Winston of the NFLPA as part of the panel? Or maybe Ozzie Newsome, GM of the Baltimore Ravens, and as true a ‘football guy’ as we’ve ever seen? Or how about one of the thousands of intelligent fans who write about the NFL but aren’t under any obligation to support their journalist paycheck? I contend again, Mark, that sports journalists have no more freedom than political journalists have to report ‘truth’.


    • I’ve been dealing with Swede all day here, so am willing at this time to pay you money to come on board as a regular commenter. The point about my head slap does seem to indicate I jumped overboard based on limited evidence, so ouch, and no, two does not qualify as conclusive. Only intriguing.

      They were hard on the fans. I ignored all of that. Don’t care. From an institutional standpoint, the league will preserve itself at all costs, which is why the point was made that the matter needs to be studied from outside football, not inside, as there is a conflict of interest.

      So my conclusion is that if indeed repeated head trauma is doing irreparable damage to athletes in the long run, we need to study the matter objectively, collect the evidence, and then make policies without any farcical notion that the league will heal itself. It cannot.


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