So, the Arizona Coyotes aren’t exactly knocking it out of the park this off-season.
There is the not-small matter of Mitchell Miller. Most hockey fans know by now that the Coyotes knew that their top draft pick was sentenced by a juvenile court for bullying and abusing a developmentally disabled classmate. The abuse included racial slurs and other vile behaviour. Miller showed no remorse. This was in 2016.
Two years (!!) after the trial, Miller was caught again intimidating his victim from the street in their neighbourhood.
Now, Miller has apologized to the National Hockey League because he doesn’t want his continual racist victimization of a developmentally disabled Black classmate to, you know, sully his prized career. He’s insisted he’s a better person now becau$e why not.
The victim’s name is Isaiah Meyer-Crothers. His mother, Joni, wrote a letter to the Coyotes’ organization after Miller was drafted way, way into the fourth round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Miller has a scholarship to the University of North Dakota. They also knew of his past, his refusal to apologize and his absence of remorse.
But the Coyotes dropped the ball. This is a bad look.
It’s tempting – and believe me, the comments will come – to dismiss this as “mere” teenage bullying. But bear in mind, this case went to court and Miller was sentenced along with his accomplice. Miller pleaded guilty to assault and received 25 hours of community service, plus he was ordered to write an apology to Meyer-Crothers and participate in counselling.
The accomplice in the bullying of Meyer-Crothers reached out and apologized personally. Miller did not.
Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, often a profoundly rewarding one, and the dream of being a hockey player is not a right. Players uphold standards of conduct and care. Miller has shown, thus far, that he’s fallen short of the mark. Any apologies he has delivered have been to cultivate the path of personal gain.
While the belief in the basic ability of people to change is necessary and the actions of Miller, however disturbing, took place in his adolescence, this still hurts the Coyotes. We could argue all day long about whether or not Miller has shown sufficient (or any) remorse or whether his actions deserve public scrutiny.
But as an organization in a league at last showing some semblance of commitment to diversity and “ending racism,” the drafting of Miller is at best a risk and at worst a huge mistake.
The Coyotes are branding this as a reclamation project, much like the University of North Dakota. The plan is to not only develop Miller into a quality hockey player but a quality human being. That may well work.
The Coyotes better hope it does.
Image: Codie McLachlan/CP