Concussion caused such bad memory lapses that Brisbane Lions defender Justin Clarke found himself in his car and “at an intersection and I had no idea where to go”.
Speaking emotionally about how devastated he was at having to retire from AFL football at age 22, Clarke said the memory lapses were even more concerning.
“The scariest thing is I was on my way to uni and I completely forgot the route I was taking.
“It takes me through the Gabba area, and I should know where I was going – what I was going to do, the roads I was going to take – and that’s the type of thing I’ve always been good with.
“But I didn’t know whether I was meant to go straight or right or how I was going to get there.
“That scared me a lot. I didn’t like that feeling because it’s not a feeling I’ve ever experienced before.
“That really rattled me.”
I’m devastated that not only will I never be able to play footy again, but I won’t be able to play contact sport again either.
Clarke received a knock at training during the preseason and has barely been able to exercise since.
He consulted thee independent specialists who all recommended he retire, suggesting further bumps to the head could lead to similar symptoms and possibly even permanent damage.
“I’m devastated that not only will I never be able to play footy again, but I won’t be able to play contact sport again either,” Clarke said.
“The worst thing is I won’t be able to go out with my mates and experience that feeling of comradeship and all that it entails in the future.
“It’s something I guess as a 22-year-old you shouldn’t really have to worry about.”
Clarke played 56 matches for the Lions after being selected at No.4 in the 2011 NAB Rookie Draft. The South Australian, who finished high school with a perfect Australian Tertiary Admission Rank score of 99.95, is a qualified pilot and is studying aeronautical engineering.
Former Lions teammates Jonathan Brown and Matt Maguire were also forced into retirement because of concussion, but Clarke said “the game itself in terms of the processes around concussion is fantastic”.
“Footy’s a great game and it’s been a risk I’ve always been willing to take. It’s such a minimal risk and it’s just a freak accident that’s occurred.”
The AFL Players Association has been providing Clarke with support in recent months and will offer him access to a full range of services as he moves into the next phase of his career.
Several of his peers took to social media to express how devastated they were for Clarke.
Thoughts with Justin Clarke, gave 100% every time he trained and played. Career cut short through head knocks. All the best mate
— Tom Rockliff (@rockwiz38) March 31, 2016
Sad day today with big jase hanging them up, ultimate clubmen and team mate , will b missed down back mate, goodluck with what's next
— Claye Beams (@ClayeBeams) March 31, 2016
Sad morning today with Jase calling it quits.Loosing a great bloke & character around the club. All the best w ur future mate @brisbanelions
— Rohan Bewick (@rbewick8) March 31, 2016
Really sorry to hear about former team mate Justin Clarke announcing his retirement. Congratulations on a short but great career#welldone
— Brent Staker (@stakes14) March 31, 2016
Very sad day today seeing big Jas having to retire, gave his all every time he stepped on the field.. All the best with the future mate!!
— Darcy Gardiner (@dizzgardiner7) March 31, 2016
Brisbane coach Justin Leppitsch acknowledged it had “been a hard road for Clarkey … to say goodbye to the game you love”.
“I went through this with Browny, but Browny had won three premierships and been a star of the game and fulfilled his dreams.
“It’s a little bit different, whereas Justin has missed out on that, he’s lost that opportunity to achieve those things and that’s what makes it sad.
“He was going down the path to do that and his career has been cut short.
“That does make it all the more sad.
“I think we all know Justin has got a bright future off the footy field, so that’s the silver lining.”
Clarke said he now hoped to complete his studies and would consider travelling and working overseas.