As the Giants and Patriots face off tonight in Indianapolis, fans will see and hear things that would have never been part of the football past.

Some of the changes will have been written into the rules. Teams may be penalized for helmet-to-helmet contact. Key players may be removed from the game because of a concussion.

This reflects a growing awareness of the lifelong and irreversible brain damage caused by repeated head injuries to former football heroes who are suffering from depression, early-onset dementia and other debilitating conditions.

It’s not just pro football players, or even just football players, however, who are subject to injury and need to be protected. That’s why 30 states have passed head injury protection laws and why Maine should, too.

L.D. 98, a bill now before the Legislature, would require training for youth athletes, parents and coaches about the dangers posed by head injuries and how best to respond to them. This is information that some school officials know and use, but it is far from universal, and it shouldn’t be.

Concussions occur when the brain smashes into the skull. No helmet can prevent one, so it’s up to athletes and their instructors to take the proper precautions. And when an accident happens, it’s vital that the athlete get out of the game and avoid further damage. The effects of multiple concussions are cumulative, and each successive injury causes more damage. The only treatment is rest.

This just as true for cheerleaders as it is for linebackers. The days when a dazed player staggering onto the field or ice to perform are over, and the state should do everything in its power to make sure that all the important parties have heard the news.

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