After The Roar: Brian O’Driscoll explores the mental health toll of retirement on male athletes

Gareth Southgate, AP McCoy, Jonny Bairstow and others feature in revealing documentary about the repercussions of retiring from elite sport on men’s mental health.

Published: 23 August 2022 - 1.16pm

BT Sport will premiere After The Roar, the latest in the award-winning BT Sport Films series, on Friday 9 September at 10pm on BT Sport 1.

The documentary is authored by former Leinster, Ireland and Lions rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll, who goes on a personal journey of discovery to better understand the mental health struggles he - and other former elite sportsmen - face when attempting to come to terms with the end of their sporting careers. For many professional athletes, retirement is a life altering experience

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In 21st century UK and Ireland the largest killer of men under the age of 50 is suicide, there’s a crisis in men’s mental health, and, for many ex-sportsmen, a stigma attached to showing vulnerability.  This film specifically looks at the gendered nature of men within society and their coping mechanisms with retirement from sport. Some maintain a desire to be independent, rejecting the need for social support, whereas others seek out support networks where available. 

The film begins with Brian reflecting on 15 years as an elite international rugby player. “When I retired, I was confronted with one of the most testing challenges I’d ever faced: life after sport,” he says.

“From the outside, my retirement may have looked easy, but the truth is I had my own battles. I don’t think I’m alone and I’m very keen to better understand the impact retirement has on former athletes - and sportsmen in particular.

“In 21st century UK and Ireland the largest killer of men under the age of 50 is suicide. There’s a crisis in men’s mental health, and, for many ex-sportsmen, a stigma attached to showing vulnerability.”

O’Driscoll meets Gareth Southgate in the latest BT Sport Film

After The Roar provides a rarely-before-seen look into how some of the world’s leading former male professional athletes deal with the health challenges posed by retirement and the ensuing potential reduction in attention, earnings and competitive tension.

Alongside Richie Sadlier, the renowned author and psychotherapist, Brian examines retirement and how it affects professional athletes across a range of sports. Sadlier used to play professional football for Millwall and had just made his international debut for Ireland in 2002 when a severe hip injury forced him into retirement.

The documentary opens up a conversation around the hidden perils athletes face as they take on their most testing challenge: life after sport.

Among those featured in After the Roar are Gareth Southgate, manager of the England men’s national football team, former coach of Australia’s rugby union side, Michael Cheika, champion jockey AP McCoy, boxer and Team GB Olympic medallist Anthony Ogogo, and England international cricketer Jonny Bairstow. The former sports stars reveal previously unheard insight into how they coped with stepping out of the sporting arena one last time.

“When I retired I was confronted with one of the most testing challenges I’d ever faced”
- Brian O’Driscoll

The film is a co-production between BT Sport Films and 3 Rock Productions, the production company led by O’Driscoll, BT Sport lead rugby presenter Craig Doyle and Keith Doyle, the author and sports journalist. The executive producers are Sally Brown (BT Sport), plus Craig Doyle and Keith Doyle (3 Rock Productions), with Theo Lee-Ray, Isobel Williams and Mark Sharman the BT Sport Films producer and director team.

The film builds on the collaboration between BT Sport and 3 Rock Productions, which in 2018 saw the release of Shoulder To Shoulder, a documentary which captured the remarkable history of the Irish national rugby union team, which despite violence, opposition and partition on the island of Ireland, has brought together players and fans from two separate countries and united them to compete as one.

Sally Brown, Executive Producer, BT Sport Films, said: “While sporting stars dominate the headlines during their career, what comes next in retirement is often overlooked. After the Roar offers a fascinating and thought-provoking insight into what happens when the final curtain call approaches and former elite athletes face up to less limelight and new mental and physical health challenges.

“Our approach in using Richie in the role of Brian's psychotherapist, and revisiting their sessions throughout the film, meant that we could drive home the huge importance for men in particular to feel able to talk openly and honestly about their mental health.” 

Brian O’Driscoll said: “I hope this film is a source of support and help to sports people at all levels, especially around the mental and physical health challenges posed by retirement from sport - it is certainly a documentary that is very personal to me.

England cricketer Jonny Bairstow features in After The Roar

“Every sportsperson will struggle to come to terms with the end of their playing career in some shape or form - I certainly did. If I had the chance to meet a young Brian O’Driscoll, knowing what I know now, I think the most important thing I could do would be to pass on Richie’s advice. I’d tell him how important it is to talk.”

Craig Doyle said: “I have spent the last two decades working next to some of the world’s top sportsmen and have seen how, despite their successes, their mental health can be as fragile as anyone else’s. I wanted to explore this issue in a documentary and to see an idea becoming this powerful and insightful BT Sport Film is truly rewarding.

“When Brian agreed to see a therapist as the spine of the film, we knew we had something very special indeed. Brian and all those he spoke to have helped break down the taboo of men speaking about their feelings which is so important. The BT Sport Films team of Isobel Williams, Theo Lee Ray and Mark Sharman had in-depth understanding of the issues and told the stories in a sensitive way creating an incredibly powerful film.  We are very proud of the creative partnership with BT Sport Films.”

Anyone affected by issues covered in the film can visit btsport.com/advice to get advice and support.