Former American football star Colin Scotts is urging Kiwi parents to pull their kids out of contact sport as fears grow over the links between heads knocks on the field and brain disease.

"Especially if your child has taken a knock or two, get them out right now," said Scotts.

In an interview to be broadcast on the Spotlight Hour on Tony Veitch's sports show on NewstalkZB today, the 54-year-old ex-Australian sporting star said he wouldn't let his own son play contact sport because of the long-term damage head knocks can have on a maturing brain, including early on-set dementia and depression.

"And that's a tough call for me and for my child," said Scotts who told Veitch that as much as it hurts him to make this call, as a former athlete, parents should seriously look at stopping children under 18 from playing contact sport.

The call comes just weeks after Scotts announced he would become Australia's first NFL player to donate his brain to science to help with concussion-related research.

"Unfortunately the only way you can diagnose this disease is when you are dead. I've taken some knocks and...it was something that I just wanted to do and something that I can give back," he said.

Advertisement

Scotts rose to fame when he became the first Australian to receive an American football scholarship in the US before going on to have an outstanding NFL career.

He played for the St Louis Cardinals and Houston Oilers in the late 1980s, in which time the defensive end received multiple concussions.

The light went on for Scotts after he heard the "terrifying" findings of a new study carried out in the US, which revealed 99 per cent of former NFL players showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) - a brain disease linked to repeated hits of the head.

Researchers looked at the brains of 111 former NFL players and found all but one showed signs of CTE.

"[Brain research] is opening up a whole new world of another disease that needs to be looked at that could be affecting children who have had heavy knocks also," said Scotts.

"What [researchers] are proving is it's the sub-concussion, it's not the full concussion. It's all the little hits. The sub-concussion is proven to be the big damager."

Scotts said it was important that any kid who plays contact sport like rugby has confidence, good technique, enjoys defending and can tackle well.

"But if he does take a knock I'd be pulling him out without hesitation," said Scotts.

"I want kids to rumble and fall off trees and break arms and do what kids do. We cannot keep sugar coating them. But banging of the heads is going to destroy their future in so many ways."

READ MORE:
The Longest Goodbye: Rugby and the dementia dilemma
Rugby and dementia: Concussion leads to increased risk of suicide
Revealed: Six reasons why concussion report matters
NZ Rugby to investigate concussion-dementia link

New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) community general manager Jacob Cameron said he firmly believed the organisation was doing everything possible to protect players and educate them and their coaches on how to manage and avoid injury.

This included having a Safeplay Code which emphasises safety and good conduct by focusing on areas such as tackle techniques.

Cameron said there will always be concern about head knocks on the field, "but there's always an opportunity to get injured" even in non-contact sport.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) general manager of rugby Neil Sorensen said both NZR and World Rugby are continuing to prioritise the safety of all players with a particular focus on concussion.

"For the moment, we still believe there are huge benefits for young and older people, to play and participate in any sport. In rugby, we do offer younger players the non-contact version of the game, Rippa Rugby.

"The safety of children in rugby is our highest priority and to this end we closely follow and participate in the ongoing conversation on concussion. We believe this ensures the well-being of our participants is optimised while retaining the essence of what it means to play rugby."

Sorensen said like any parent, NZR does not want to see kids getting injured playing the game, which is why they are doing all they can to make it as safe as possible.

NZR has partnered with ACC to run a RugbySmart programme aimed at minimising injuries among players.

Details for a $7 million expansion of the RugbySmart programme, set to include education that focuses on the contact areas of rugby and identifying and treating concussion, have also been released.

A blue card for concussion initiative has also been rolled out by NZR. The tool allows referees in senior club and secondary school matches in Auckland to remove players from the field when concussion is suspected.

College Sport were not available for comment.

Scotts' call echoes that of Dr Bennet Omalu, the man who coined CTE.

Omalu, who is portrayed by Will Smith in Hollywood movie Concussion, believes knowing what we knew today about the long-term dangers of blows to the head, there is no justifiable reason for kids under 18 to play contact sport.

The Herald last year investigated the potential link between head injuries suffered in rugby and the seemingly disproportionate number of players from the 1964 Taranaki Ranfurly Shield team and 1967 touring All Blacks who had either died with or were suffering from dementia.

The after-effects of concussion have led to the premature retirements of a number of professional rugby players recently, including Riki Hoeata.

In Australia the NRL is under fire for not doing enough to protect its league players, with James McManus filing legal action against his former club the Newcastle Knights for failing in its duty of care to him following a series of concussions.