Coyotes, UND do turnabout, reject player for racist bullying
Mitchell Miller was sentenced to 25 hours of community service and required to get counseling after being involved in the racist abuse of a developmentally disabled classmate.
The Arizona Coyotes and the University of North Dakota both knew of Mitchell Miller’s past.
But Arizona still drafted the defenseman in the fourth round (111th overall) of the NHL draft on Oct. 7, and UND still granted him a scholarship to play hockey there.
It was not until the Arizona Republic published a story about Miller’s involvement in racist abuse that both walked away from the 18-year-old.
In 2016, Miller was sentenced to 25 hours of community service and required to get counseling after he and another teenager were involved in the racist abuse of a developmentally disabled classmate.
On Oct. 29, the Coyotes renounced him as a draft pick. The next day, UND announced he was no longer part of the hockey program, though he could remain at the school as a student with a scholarship intact for a year.
Miller and another classmate admitted in juvenile court to bullying Isaiah Meyer-Crothers while all three lived in Sylvania, Ohio. Meyer-Crothers said Miller had taunted him for years, calling him “Brownie” and using the n-word, and that Miller and another boy had tricked him into licking candy that they had wiped in a bathroom urinal before assaulting him in an attack that was caught on surveillance cameras.
Miller said that he had personally apologized to Meyer-Crothers in a letter he sent to all 31 NHL teams before the draft. But the Arizona Republic said that, according to Meyer-Crothers’ mother, Miller had never apologized.
“He pretended to be my friend and made me do things I didn’t want to do,” Meyer-Crothers, who now is 18 but developmentally four years behind his peers, told the Republic. “In junior high, I got beat up by him. … Everyone thinks he’s so cool that he gets to go to the NHL, but I don’t see how someone can be cool when you pick on someone and bully someone your entire life.”
The Coyotes defended the pick after the original story.
In a statement, Arizona president and chief executive Xavier Gutierrez, the NHL’s first Latino president and CEO, said team officials were aware of the bullying incident when they drafted Miller out of the University of North Dakota. but “embraced” the chance to draft him “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.”
But that tune eventually changed.
“We have learned more about the entire matter, and more importantly, the impact it has had on Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family,” Gutierrez, who in September was named to the NHL’s Executive Inclusion Council, said in a statement. “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 announcement from UND came in the form of a letter by university president Andrew Armacost. In it he said:
“We expect our students to live by our values in the classroom, in the community and when representing the University on the field of play. … I have decided that the best course of action for Mitchell and the University is that he no longer be a member of the UND Men’s Hockey program. Mitchell may remain a student at UND and we will continue to support his future intellectual and interpersonal growth.”