The details of Arizona Coyotes’ top draft pick Mitchell Miller bullying and racially abusing Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, a Black, mentally disabled teen, are harrowing.
As first reported by the Arizona Republic, Miller admitted in an Ohio juvenile court in 2016 to bullying Meyer-Crothers, evidence of which was captured on video tape. According Meyer-Crothers’ mother, the video showed Miller “smashing Isaiah’s head against a brick wall.” In other instances, of which classmates testified to police, Miller repeatedly called Meyer-Crothers the n-word. In another instance, Miller and another teen coerced Meyer-Crothers into eating candy that had either been “placed in a urinal” or the boys had actually urinated on. For their actions, the boys were given 25 hours of community service.
Knowing about these actions (Miller sent every NHL team a letter admitting his behavior) and keeping in mind the NHL’s commitment to making hockey a safe and welcoming safe for everyone, the Arizona Coyotes chose Miller as their first pick in the 2020 Draft.
There is no question that what Miller did was racist and has no place not just in hockey but in society. Miller was 14 when he committed these acts, but they can hardly be written off as youthful indiscretions. Yet, because Miller is good with a hockey stick, his abuse is in the process of being glossed over by an NHL team more interested in his ability to help them win than standing by any principals of decency. Already, the Coyotes are crafting Miller’s narrative into one of redemption, built on the backs on marginalized communities.
It’s the team’s empty justifications for drafting him—before he has legitimately atoned for the abuse he inflicted—that shows how paper thin the Coyotes and by extension the NHL’s commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion actually is.
When commenting on Miller’s record of abuse, Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez, who sits on the NHL’s Inclusion Council, tried to frame the team as the good guys, rather than those allowing an abuser the opportunity to fail upward.
“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,” he said in a statement.
The Coyotes have declined multiple requests for comments and interviews and have offered little in the way of specifics as to how they plan to “be a part of the solution.” In a statement sent to For The Win, the team said they “are working with Mitchell, his family and the University of North Dakota to get Mitchell involved with some anti-bullying and anti-racism programs for this season. Mitchell’s family and agent are hoping to get details finalized this week. Mitchell hopes to use his platform to raise awareness about these important issues.”
The tossed off “some” in this statement, combined with the lack of specifics as to which programs he may join, shows just how much thought the team, the family and Miller himself put in to his behavior before these incidents became widely known. Additionally, it also now casts doubt on Miller’s motivations moving forward. Are his actions genuine? Or are they simply in response to a public outcry?
The Coyotes also said “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.” Again, the team declined to give specifics as to what makes hockey coaches and team management, the majority of whom are white, the best guides against racial abuse.
Of all these statements that read as if they were dashed off at the last minute, it’s the organization’s insistence that “Mitchell hopes to use his platform to raise awareness about these important issues,” that shows how little they actually understand about “these issue.” Currently, Miller isn’t even involved in any anti-racism or anti-bullying work, which means he still has much to learn. Yet, the team wants to fast forward to him already being a leader in that space.
“It’s a story about reflection, growth, and community impact,” Gutierrez said. “A true leader finds ways for every person to contribute to the solution. We all need to be a part of the solution.”
This is nothing short of aiming to use marginalized communities as stepping stones to the redemption narrative of a white player. It should also be noted that none of these statements from the Coyotes or Miller actually mention the victim of the abuse, Isaiah Meyer-Crothers. In his apology letter that the Coyotes sent on behalf of Miller to the Arizona Republic, Miller didn’t mention Meyer-Crothers by name, and only referred to “the bullying incident.” His statement centers himself, and how he feels, while offering nothing to Isaiah or his family.
“He pretended to be my friend and made me do things I didn’t want to do,” Meyer-Crothers said to 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.”
There may be a path forward for Miller and redemption, but it shouldn’t run through professional hockey. He has plenty of work to do and, in multiple instances, the league has shown that it not equipped to be the place for this kind of learning. Hockey culture has a real problem with racism, and much of it boils down to the ability of leaders in power to excuse away bad behavior if it means a chance at winning. What Miller has now is a chance at an NHL career, despite his behavior going against all the principals players, teams and the league say they have “zero tolerance” for.
Playing professional hockey is a privilege, and it’s one that should have been closed to Miller the second he used the n-word, the second he shoved Meyer-Crothers’ head into a wall.