Miller was convicted of bullying a developmentally disabled African American classmate when he was 14 years old. (Full details can be found here, but I warn you: it’s graphic and disgusting). This information was well-known by all NHL clubs prior to the draft. Several took Miller completely off their draft lists. Yet the Coyotes selected Miller anyway with the team’s first selection in this year’s draft.
The victim, Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, had the mental ability of a 10-year-old at the time according to his mother.
Aside: Arizona’s first pick in this year’s draft wasn’t until the fourth round. The team had already been docked its 2020 second round draft pick and 2021 first round draft pick for scouting combine violations.
Defending The Decision
The Coyotes have been met with mounting criticism since making the selection, and at first attempted to defend it. Team president Xavier Gutierrez, who is part of the NHL’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, released a statement in the Arizona Republic that said:
“Our fundamental mission is to ensure a safe environment — whether in schools, in our community, in hockey rinks, or in the workplace — to be free of bullying and racism. When we first learned of Mitchell’s story, it would have been easy for us to dismiss him — many teams did. Instead, we felt it was our responsibility to be a part of the solution in a real way — not just saying and doing the right things ourselves but ensuring that others are too,” the statement said.
“Given our priorities on diversity and inclusion, we believe that we are in the best position to guide Mitchell into becoming a leader for this cause and preventing bullying and racism now and in the future. As an organization, we have made our expectations very clear to him. We are willing to work with Mitchell and put in the time, effort, and energy and provide him with the necessary resources and platform to confront bullying and racism. This isn’t a story about excuses or justifications. It’s a story about reflection, growth, and community impact. A true leader finds ways for every person to contribute to the solution. We all need to be a part of the solution.”
New GM Bill Armstong was unable to participate in the draft as part of his agreement with former employer the St. Louis Blues. Even though he did not select Miller, there was a statement issued from him as well saying:
“The Arizona Coyotes do not condone any type of bullying behavior. I was unable to participate in this year’s draft but prior to drafting Mitchell Miller, our scouts were made aware of his history and the bullying incident that occurred in 2016 when he was 14 years old,” Armstrong said.
“Mitchell sent a letter to every NHL team acknowledging what happened and apologizing for his behavior. Mitchell made a huge mistake, but we are providing him with a second chance to prove himself. We hope that he uses his platform moving forward to raise awareness about bullying and to discourage this type of behavior.”
Even North Dakota knew about the accusations before bringing him on board. UND head coach Brad Berry said he was aware of the incident before bringing Miller to campus in August. The school’s statement was close to what the Coyotes put out, saying UND “made a decision that our program could provide (Miller) the necessary infrastructure and culture to hone not only his hockey abilities but most importantly, assist him in his continuing growth as a human being which will last him the remainder of his life.”
The statements did nothing to quell the criticism.
The backlash has continued to grow from many sources, with several media outlets calling for the team to move on from Miller immediately. Now they have. But to me there are still a few points being lost completely here.
First is that Meyer-Crothers and his mother have said they would just like an apology from Miller. Miller claims he has done so, but Meyer-Crothers says he never has. Before anything else happens, this should happen. In person and privately. Don’t lose what happened here because it was terrible and should never happen again for so many reasons. Meyer-Crothers and his family deserve the respect of an in-person apology.
Second, Arizona is not the only team that would have drafted Miller – they’re just the ones that did. Several teams said they wouldn’t touch him, but not every team said that. Who knows how much farther he would have fallen but odds are someone would have picked him. So let’s not completely frame Arizona as being alone in this idea.
Third, I’m a believer in second (and third) chances, because goodness knows I’ve needed them and will continue to need them. I’m not perfect. But for Miller to ever really make it as a pro hockey player – if that’s something he still wants to do after all this – he is going to have to really get out in front of this. He has to do more than just send a letter to all 31 teams before the draft telling him how contrite he is. Miller has to put his time and energy into anti-bullying projects and organizations. Go through therapy. Outwardly show people that you are putting in the work to better yourself. Without all of that, I don’t know that Miller gets a chance or would earn one.
Finally, I’m sure the hockey world will be curious to see what North Dakota and Team USA do moving forward.
I will say this: Miller now has the ability to be an example and an instrument of change. The spotlight is on him and what he does going forward. One of the hardest things to do is take responsibility for your mistakes, own them and apologize. Some people will never forgive you. Others will. Miller needs to look in the mirror and make a tough decision. Ultimately, he could sow far more good from an absolutely horrible situation in the long run. At least we can hope.