When a rough hit leveled Duxbury High School player Tucker Hannon at a hockey game in January, his parents’ outrage was understandable. The rival player, who appeared to pump his fist after smashing into Hannon, wasn’t even penalized.
Hannon, though, suffered a concussion and missed five weeks of school, and on Friday his parents were in court seeking assault and battery charges against the opposing player, Alex Way. Plymouth County Clerk Magistrate Philip McCue decided there wasn’t enough evidence. It was a reasonable decision. But the case raises two separate issues: what’s allowed in high school hockey, and what’s punishable in court.
The fact that Way won’t face charges doesn’t mean that his actions were acceptable, and the Massachusetts Interscholatic Athletic Association should use this as an opportunity to discourage dangerous play. Certainly, the 18-year-old Hannon assumed a level of risk by stepping onto the ice, but there are limits to the risks that Massachusetts schools ought to allow their students to face. A hit of sufficient force to cause a concussion, a potentially severe brain injury, should be off-limits. If it’s not against the rules now, it needs to be.
At the same time, the referee’s whistle can’t always be the last word. McCue’s decision Friday was the right call in a case in which there was no evidence that Way intended to injure Hannon. But judges and prosecutors shouldn’t hesitate to get involved in more egregious plays. As evidence of the long-term medical damage from concussions grows, hockey players from high schools to the pros need to be put on notice that they can’t expect to use the game’s physicality as an excuse for violence. The next time a hockey player is injured by an unnecessarily rough play, the damage could be much worse.