Coyotes make the correct call on Miller, but it's a little late
The Arizona Coyotes’ decision to renounce their draft rights to Mitchell Miller is a welcome admission that they now know they were wrong drafting a player who once bullied a developmentally disabled classmate.
The Coyotes apologized to the victim and their fans and partners for their insensitive decisions.
But it doesn’t excuse their actions.
The Coyotes should also do a full review off how that occurred to understand why red flags were not raised when it was learned that Miller, now 18, was convicted four years ago for “bullying” Isaiah Meyers-Crothers.
The Coyotes drafted Miller in the fourth round (No. 111) of the recent NHL draft.
“We have decided to renounce the rights to Mitchell Miller, effective immediately,” said Coyotes’ President & CEO Xavier Gutierrez. “Prior to selecting Mitchell in the NHL Draft, we were aware that a bullying incident took place in 2016. We do not condone this type of behavior but embraced this as a teachable moment to work with Mitchell to make him accountable for his actions and provide him with an opportunity to be a leader on anti-bullying and anti-racism efforts. We have learned more about the entire matter, and more importantly, the impact it has had on Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family. What we learned does not align with the core values and vision for our organization and leads to our decision to renounce our draft rights. On behalf of the Arizona Coyotes ownership and our entire organization, I would like to apologize to Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family. We are building a model franchise on and off the ice and will do the right thing for Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family, our fans and our partners. Mr. Miller is now a free agent and can pursue his dream of becoming an NHL player elsewhere.”
The Arizona Republic broke the story. Here is what the Republic reported:
“Four years ago, Miller admitted in an Ohio juvenile court to bullying Meyer-Crothers, who was tricked into licking a candy push pop that Miller and another boy had wiped in a bathroom urinal. Meyer-Crothers had to be tested for hepatitis, HIV and STDs, but the tests came back negative, according to a police report,” the Republic reported. “Meyer-Crothers, also 18 and who now lives in Detroit, said Miller had taunted him for years, constantly calling him 'brownie' and the 'N-word,' while repeatedly hitting him while growing up in the Toledo suburb. Other students at their junior high confirmed to police that Miller repeatedly used the 'N-word' in referring to Meyer-Crothers."
Miller was sentenced to community service, which he completed. He sent a letter to NHL teams acknowledging the event and apologizing for his behavior. Based on multiple reports, most NHL teams decided not to consider drafting him.
The Coyotes’ decision to draft Miller comes at a time when the NHL, like other pro sports league, has committed to doing what it can to prevent racism of any form.
Before the Stanley Cup Tournament started, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba made a passionate speech about the NHL becoming vigilant against racism.
Before the Miller story was revealed, Coyotes’ President & CEO Xavier Gutierrez was named to a league committee tasked with helping to make sure the league didn’t have a culture that tolerated racism.
New Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong said he “fully supported” the decision to renounce Miller’s rights, which would suggest it was made at the ownership level.
“It was a unique situation for me not being able to participate in this year’s Draft and we were going through a transition with our scouting department,” Armstrong said. “Mitchell is a good hockey player, but we need to do the right thing as an organization and not just as a hockey team. I’d like to apologize to Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family for everything they have dealt with the past few months. I wish them all the best in the future.”
Originally, the Coyotes stood by their decision, suggesting it was appropriate to give him a second chance. Their plan was to work with him and encourage him to use his status as a player to stand up against racism.
But given the details of this case, that is too much compassion for Miller, and not enough for his victim. Imagine how Meyer-Crothers family felt to be informed that Miller was drafted and perhaps headed toward a career as a professional athlete.
It was a weak response, especially given the anti-racism stance in the sports world. While it is true that Miller wasn’t yet in high school when this occurs, Miller hasn’t yet done enough to earn his second chance.
The details of the bullying are too ugly to write off to Miller being young and immature. When you are young and immature, you egg a house or skip school. You don’t mistreat another human being with disgusting cruelty.
It would have been far more appropriate for the NHL to ignore Miller at the draft. Maybe he will deserve a second chance, but it’s not now. He has a scholarship to play at North Dakota. Now, people are wondering why North Dakota gave him this chance, or why USA Hockey allowed him to play for U.S. National teams.
But if he plays four seasons at North Dakota, the NHL can watch him and then make a determination whether he had repented enough to deserve an opportunity to play in the league.
Meanwhile, hopefully the Coyotes will determine who supported the idea of drafting Miller. What were they thinking?
At the very least, the Coyotes should make those responsible receive training about what it means for the NHL to be anti-bullying and anti-racism.