Australian women's basketball great Lauren Jackson.
Australian women's basketball great Lauren Jackson. ANDREW TAYLOR

Retired athletes reveal their struggles out of limelight

SOME of Australia's biggest sports have revealed their struggles post-retirement, and life after the final siren can be very tough going.

Retired athletes attempting to deal with life after sport can go through a chemical withdrawal similar to coming off hard drugs, according to a Four Corners report.

Former basketball superstar Lauren Jackson, 35, retired last year after her career "turned to mush", she told Four Corners.

The three-time WNBA MVP and four-time Olympic medallist said the pressure to perform through injuries forced her to turn to prescription painkillers.

"Because of the injuries that I had, there are high stakes," Jackson said.

"You're getting paid a lot of money to perform, and when you're a franchise player or someone that is expected to perform day in, day out, you do what you have to do to get by.

"For me, that was painkillers and sleeping pills, generally."

Jackson did not detail the drugs she took except to say it was "a lot of stuff" and described it as "a nightmare".

"Having to get off everything was really, really, really hard," she said.

Jackson said it was hard to deal with life without professional sport.

"Once your career is over, you've got to re-create yourself in a way that other people just don't have to," she said.

"One of my good friends from America said to me 'you know athletes die two times' and it's true.

"You are on an island, you are on your own. For your entire life, you're being told you're the best, you're the greatest.

"Then all of a sudden, there's no one there."


Ex-Bomber Courtenay Dempsey.
Ex-Bomber Courtenay Dempsey. TRACEY NEARMY

After he was delisted by Essendon last year, Courtenay Dempsey told the ABC program he has struggled.

After the end of his 133-game AFL career, former Bombers star Dempsey, 29, said he didn't know where to turn in the wake of the supplements saga.

"I've been stuck in this regimen for 11 years, 12 years, most of my life, and all of a sudden I've got to go out into the wider world and fend for myself, which I don't have a clue about because I went from school straight into football. All I know is football," he said.

The former defender said his family urged him to seek help for depression.

"You devote your whole life into that club and then all of a sudden they just take it away from you, and you're thinking 'what have I done wrong?'," Dempsey told the program.

"I've done everything that you've asked me to do and yet, you still throw this at me."

Essendon CEO Xavier Campbell told the program the club had attempted to help Dempsey with his life after football and would continue to do so.

The revelations come as sports psychologist Gayelene Clews told the program retiring athletes have to deal with a significant drop in their dopamine levels, which made it difficult to adjust to their new life.

"They're going through almost a chemical withdrawal, and in many ways you could probably liken it to coming off something like cocaine," Clews said.


Former Wallabies hooker Brendan Cannon.
Former Wallabies hooker Brendan Cannon. DEAN LEWINS

Former Wallabies hooker Brendan Cannon told Four Corners the death of his former international teammate Dan Vickerman illustrated how hard it could be for professional sportspeople to adjust to a new life after retirement.

Vickerman took his own life in February.

"I think it's just such a tragedy that our much-loved mate felt so alone at that moment, to do what he did," Cannon said.

"All of us at different times have had really dark periods post-football.

"And Dan was one of those, Dan was no exception, really. He had dark periods away from football, in his transition.

"We rallied around him, a couple of times, and we thought that we'd managed to get him out of the darker periods."

Cannon said he struggled after his retirement in 2003, forced by a neck injury, after a playing 42 Tests for Australia.

"You go from being the king of your domain, where you know exactly what your job is, the influence you can have on your teammates ... then all of a sudden, you're standing on your own in a room full of strangers, which are your new work friends.

"And they're wanting to talk to you about what you used to be, and all you want to focus on is what you want to become."


Former Australian fast bowler Nathan Bracken.
Former Australian fast bowler Nathan Bracken. JON SUPER

Cricket World Cup-winning bowler Nathan Bracken was another former player who revealed to Four Corners his struggles up on retirement.

Bracken retired in 2010 after a knee injury ended a six-year international career in which he played 116 one-day internationals and five Tests for Australia and was a part of the 2007 World Cup-winning side.

"There's no system in place to take care of players that have career-ending injuries. It's short and sharp 'see you later, thanks for coming'," he said.

"I applied for pretty much every job under the sun. I applied for packing shelves in shopping centres and the comment is, 'Oh, what do you need a job for? You don't need this. Don't be silly,'" Bracken said.

He said he was told: "You are going up against 22-year-old kids. You're 32."

Bracken told the program it led to a loss of self-esteem.

"I felt a failure," said Bracken, who admitted he had thoughts of suicide.

"My mum didn't want to leave Nathan alone at times because she was frightened of what he'd do," Bracken's wife, Haley, told Four Corners.

For help with emotional difficulties, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or

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