NHL team voids contract of player who bullied disabled black classmate

NHL team voids contract of player who bullied disabled black classmate

The Boston Bruins cut ties with Mitchell Miller after current players and the NHL spoke out against signing Miller. Miller admitted to bullying a black classmate with an intellectual disability when he was 14 years old.

Eldon Holmes/Tri-City Storm

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Eldon Holmes/Tri-City Storm

The Boston Bruins cut ties with Mitchell Miller after current players and the NHL spoke out against signing Miller. Miller admitted to bullying a black classmate with an intellectual disability when he was 14 years old.

Eldon Holmes/Tri-City Storm

The Boston Bruins have canceled plans to add defenseman Mitchell Miller to their roster, after current players and NHL officials spoke out against Miller – who was convicted of bullying a black classmate with an intellectual disability at the age of 14.

Miller said he apologized and described his actions as a unique incident.

But critics of Miller, who is now 20, say he hasn’t done enough to show remorse for his actions or to prove he is now a changed person. His victim described systemic abuse that went on for years.

The controversy has raised questions about NHL team vetting processes, as well as a culture around elite youth athletics that can allow bullies to avoid accountability.

Complaints about Miller captured national attention in 2020

This is the second time that Miller’s path to the NHL has been abruptly blocked. The Arizona Coyotes drafted the Ohio native in 2020, but the team waived its rights to him days later after Miller’s former schoolmate Isaiah Meyer-Crothers allegedly talked about the years of abuse suffered by Miller that culminated in a juvenile court case.

“He pretended to be my friend and made me do things I didn’t want to do,” Meyer-Crothers told the Arizona Republic at the time, describing growing up alongside Miller in their hometown outside of Toledo.

The bullying ranged from racial slurs to physical attacks, Meyer-Crothers said. In a 2016 incident that led to police intervention and a court conviction, Miller and another boy made Meyer-Crothers lick a candy that had been rubbed inside a urinal. They also beat him, according to a Republic report citing local records.

According to Republic.

Contacted by NPR on Monday, Meyer-Crothers’ mother, Joni, said, “Our prayer is that Mitchell receives help and understands the magnitude of what he has done for years in Isaiah and in the same spirit. that Isaiah can heal from the trauma. Both the boys need healing.”

Joni Meyer-Crothers said while the other boy in the bathroom ordeal personally apologized to his son, Miller never did, other than write a court-mandated letter. She also says that Miller initially lied about the incident, admitting his role only to prevent the surveillance video of the attack from being released.

Last fall, Isaiah’s father, Jamie Crothers, wrote an open letter to Miller, accusing him of using his status as an emerging hockey star to commit years of abuse. The family placed their adopted son in a different school to help him avoid bullying, Crothers wrote, but he alleged the incidents resumed when he and Miller later went to the same college.

“Do you remember telling him on one of those occasions that his BLACK family didn’t love him and that’s why he has a WHITE family?” Crothers wrote.

The letter came in response to Miller resuming his junior hockey career.

Miller was (once again) on his way to the NHL

Miller’s talent on the ice is undisputed. In May, he was named USHL Player of the Year with 39 goals in 60 games for the Tri-City Storm — a record for the junior league’s top defenseman.

That same month, Anthony Noreen, president of hockey operations for the Storm, said the team brought Miller back after reports of bullying emerged in 2020 because they had faith in Miller’s character.

“We believe in this kid”, Noreen in a video remembers telling the USHL, saying he has known Miller for years. The team also created a plan to help Miller develop off the ice, he added.

Miller’s success with the Storm set the stage for Friday, when the Bruins signed him to a three-year entry-level contract, sending him to the Providence Bruins of the AHL. But criticism has erupted inside and outside the organization. Just two days later, the team announced that it had elected to “cancel Mitchell Miller’s opportunity to represent the Boston Bruins.”

The team said their signing of Miller was based on their belief that he had reformed and grown as a person following what they called an “isolated incident”.

But the day after Miller was signed by the Bruins, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman insisted that Miller was not welcome in the league.

“He’s not coming to the NHL. He’s not eligible to come to the NHL right now,” Bettman said. “I can’t tell you that he will ever be eligible to enter the NHL.”

Bettman said he has since spoken to Bruins president Cam Neely about Miller.

“Nobody should think, at this point, that he is or could ever be eligible for the NHL,” Bettman said. “And the Bruins understand that now.”

As the Bruins announced their change of plans, Neely apologized to Meyer-Crothers.

“To Isaiah and his family, my deepest apologies if this signing made you and other victims feel invisible and inaudible,” he said. “We apologize for the deep hurt and impact we have caused.”

Miller and his agent say he’s working for change

On Friday, Miller released a statement through the Bruins that prominently mentioned his troubled history.

“When I was in eighth grade, I made an extremely bad decision and acted very immature,” he said. “I bullied one of my classmates. I deeply regret the incident and have apologized to the individual.”

But Miller’s message didn’t ring true to his critics, who blamed him for portraying his abuse as a one-time mistake. They also say he overdid his apology. Meyer-Crothers’ parents said their son endured years of abuse, starting in first and second grade.

In recent years, Miller said, he has gained a better understanding of the consequences of bullying. And he is committed to working in community programs to educate himself and others.

“I strive to be a better person and contribute positively to society,” he said in the statement.

Miller’s agent, Eustace King – a black man who sits on the NHL’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee – issued a statement Sunday saying he struggled with whether to represent Miller. In the end, he said, he chose to ‘advise and not cancel’ the youngster.

Miller is committed to working with advocacy groups that promote fairness and fight bullying, King said.

“We believe in restorative justice,” he said. “Mitchell and I are on this journey together, and I invite you all to join us.”

Bruins players have spoken out against Miller’s bullying

It was good for his son, Meyer-Crothers told NPR, to hear Bruins stars such as captain Patrice Bergeron, assistant captain Brad Marchand and forward Nick Foligno condemn Miller’s past behavior as they were discussing the controversial signing over the weekend.

“In this locker room, it’s all about inclusion, diversity, respect,” Bergeron said. “We expect the guys who wear this shirt to be people of character with integrity and respect. That’s how they should act.”

Bergeron said he disagreed with signing Miller. He and other players also said it was up to Miller to continue to grow and show that he had changed.

“If it’s the same 14-year-old who walks into that locker room, he wouldn’t be accepted, sought out and welcomed into that locker room, to be honest with you,” Bergeron said.

“Isaiah would like to thank Bergeron, Foligno and Marchand for their statements on Saturday,” Meyer-Crothers told NPR, adding that their words “gave him some peace.”

When asked what Isaiah’s life is like today, Meyer-Crothers said that at age 20 he struggles daily. He currently lives in Detroit but is looking to return home, she said, adding that he would like to become a barber.

“With his disability, he was always extremely artistic,” she said, “and cutting his hair was always good therapy for him.”

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