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Former Bears' pick Freeman retired with enlarged heart

He failed physical weeks after Gaines Adams' death Brad Biggs

Print This May 02, 2010, 10:24 AM EST

What are the odds?

The Chicago Bears traded a second-round draft pick back in mid-October for defensive end Gaines Adams and three months later he died of cardiac arrest, the result of an enlarged heart. Less than a month later, Marcus Freeman, a linebacker from Ohio State who the Bears drafted in the fifth round in 2009, failed a physical with Indianapolis.

The Colts were going to sign Freeman four days after losing Super Bowl XLIV. But after a routine physical – and then an additional four hours of tests on his heart that included stress tests and a cardiac MRI – Freeman was told he had an enlarged heart valve in his left ventricle. The Colts couldn’t pass him for a physical and no NFL team would.

Freeman had no idea there was anything abnormal with his heart. On his two-hour drive home from Indianapolis, he couldn’t help but think about what had happened to Adams and how with a wife and two young kids, he was lucky. He called his position coach at Ohio State, Luke Fickell, during the drive home and expressed an interest in coaching. He has what amounts to a quality control position while he finishes three classes for a degree in sports management.

It wasn’t the first time there were extra tests performed on his heart. Freeman was given an extra EKG when he was at the scouting combine. It was information that was available to all NFL teams.

"They had found my heart had come back abnormal at the combine and they redid (the EKG)," Freeman told the Chicago Tribune. "After I took it again, nothing was said about it and we moved on. I don't know if it was (enlarged) then or if it happened in the recent year or what.

"The Bears never mentioned it. They were more concerned about my knee and trying to make sure that was healthy. That's the biggest thing, I think, why I was shocked in Indianapolis."

In fairness to the Bears, who released Freeman at the end of preseason, hehad stints on the practice squads in Buffalo and Houston and they never mentioned his heart. A Bears spokesman, citing HIPAA regulations, declined to make general manager Jerry Angelo available for an interview.

“Marcus is a great kid,” Angelo said in a statement provided by the team. “He had an excellent career at Ohio State. It is unfortunate it didn’t work out here. He is very intelligent and will be successful in his chosen career path. We wish him the best.”

The Bills and Texans also never mentioned his heart. A Bears spokesman, citing legal issues, declined to make general manager Jerry Angelo available for an interview. Freeman received a signing bonus of $181,700 from the club.

Freeman is consulting with doctors every few months. He marvels that a year ago this weekend he got his first exposure to the NFL in a rookie minicamp at Halas Hall. It seems like half a lifetime ago.

"When I look at the things I've been able to accomplish, I am truly happy," Freeman said. "I feel like I am still fulfilled. Look at what happened with Gaines Adams and the Bears. It's a dangerous situation. Luckily, the Colts doctors found it before something like that happened to me. I just have to try to look at it as a positive.

"I don't know if I had this before last year or when it happened. I have no clue. It's crazy. I have nothing but great things to say about Chicago. They gave me an opportunity. They drafted me. It was a great organization. They had to make a business decision."

What Freeman’s story underscores is the need for the NFL to look more closely at matters of the heart. The technology exists and it shouldn’t take another death to drive home that point. Not only is the health of athletes at stake, there are massive investments on the line as well.

"When I look at the things I've been able to accomplish, I am truly happy," Freeman said. "I feel like I am still fulfilled. Look at what happened with Gaines Adams and the Bears. It's a dangerous situation. Luckily, the Colts doctors found it before something like that happened to me. I just have to try to look at it as a positive.
 

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