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Shortly after their chief executive was selected to an NHL committee assembled to fight racism in the sport, the Arizona Coyotes used their first draft pick in the 2020 NHL Draft on an 18-year-old who has “admitted to bullying an African American classmate with developmental disabilities,” according to Craig Harris and Jose M. Romero of the Arizona Republic.
Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, the victim in this case, told the Republic that he was “stunned and saddened” when he found out the Coyotes drafted Mitchell Miller in the fourth round. The two grew up together in Sylvania, Ohio.
According to the report, Miller admitted four years ago in an Ohio juvenile court to bullying Meyer-Crothers, who was allegedly tricked into licking a candy push pop that Miller and another boy had wiped in a bathroom urinal. As a result of the vicious act, Meyer-Crothers had to be tested for hepatitis, HIV and and various other sexually transmitted diseases — but the tests came back negative — according to a police report cited in the story.
“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.”
Meyer-Crothers, who is now 18, said Miller taunted him “for years,” constantly calling him “brownie” and the “N-word,” while also repeatedly physically assaulting him while they were growing up. The story notes that students at their junior high school confirmed to police that “Miller repeatedly used the ‘N-word’” when referring to Meyer-Crothers.
Attempts to contact Miller through the Coyotes, his family and attorney were unsuccessful, but Miller issued a statement late last Friday through the team “expressing contrition.”
New Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong was not involved in drafting Miller, but confirmed that the organization was well aware of his disturbing history before using their first pick of the 2020 draft to select Miller.
“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.”
Coyotes sending mixed messages
Adding another sinister wrinkle to all of this is the fact that the Coyotes selected Miller just a month after Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez was named to the NHL's Executive Inclusion Council, a group the NHL said was formed to focus on “combating racism and fostering diversity in the sport.”
The Coyotes did not agree to make any of their senior management available for interviews about why they decided to draft Miller, The Republic stated, but the organization offered up a statement from Gutierrez explaining the organization’s thought process and why they felt the choice was justified.
“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.”
Most (all) professional sports teams, including NHL franchises, generally conduct deep, extensive research into the pasts and personal lives of potential draft picks, so it’s reasonable to believe that the selection of Miller wasn’t just an accident or oversight by the Coyotes.
Miller never personally apologized to Meyer-Crothers
Though Miller apparently apologized to those in control of his hockey career for his actions, Meyer-Crothers has received nothing for his trauma.
Miller and another juvenile were charged with assault and violating the Ohio Safe Schools Act in February of 2016, when they were alleged to have made Meyer-Crothers eat candy that had been placed in a urinal. Other accounts in the police report, according to the Republic, state that the teenagers urinated on the candy before giving it to Meyer-Crothers.
Miller and the other teen also “punched and pushed Meyer-Crothers,” according to the police report obtained by The Republic.
According to Joni Meyer-Crothers — Isaiah’s mother — the younger Meyer-Crothers had the mental ability of a 10-year-old at the time of the bullying.
Miller and the other unnamed boy admitted to the bullying misdemeanours and were sentenced to 25 hours of community service. They were also “ordered to write an apology through the court system to Meyer-Crothers.”
Joni Meyer-Crothers said the other boy involved in the incident “broke down in tears while personally apologizing to her son,” yet Miller has never personally apologized, she said.
The Republic says the Coyotes sent a copy of the letter that Miller claimed to have given to the victim and his family, but the family says they never received such a letter.
Joni Meyer-Crothers claims that the main reason Miller and the other boy admitted to the crime in the first place and avoided a trial was because the incident was caught on surveillance footage.
For what it’s worth, the Coyotes released a statement from Miller apologizing for the incident:
“I am extremely sorry about the bullying incident that occurred in 2016 while I was in eighth grade. I was young, immature and feel terrible about my actions. At the time, I did not understand the gravity of my actions and how they can affect other people.
“I have issued an apology to the family for my behaviour, completed cultural diversity and sensitivity training and volunteered within my community with organizations such as Little Miracles. Over the past four years, I have had a lot of time to reflect and grow and I am very grateful to the Arizona Coyotes for taking a chance on me. I promise not to let them down. Moving forward, I want to be a leader for this cause and help end bullying and racism.”
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