Coyotes renounce rights of Mitchell Miller, draft pick convicted of racist bullying

via Arizona Coyotes
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The Arizona Coyotes received well-deserved criticism for drafting Mitchell Miller, but belatedly made the right call by renouncing his rights. The Coyotes selected Miller, 18, with their first pick of the 2020 NHL Draft, choosing him 111th overall.

It’s unclear if the University of North Dakota will move on from Mitchell Miller, as well. They issued a statement along the lines of this being a teachable moment, too, on Oct. 26, but it’s possible the university may reverse course like the Coyotes already did.

Details of Miller’s racist bullying of Isaiah Meyer-Crothers

Shortly after the Coyotes drafted Miller, people learned more about Miller and another individual’s heinous, racist abuse of Black classmate Isaiah Meyer-Crothers. Meyer-Crothers, also now 18, is developmentally disabled.

On Oct. 26, Arizona Republic reporters Craig Harris and Jose M. Romero shared details of Miller’s bullying acts toward Meyer-Crothers from 2016. Be warned that the cruelty is jarring:

Four years ago, Miller admitted in an Ohio juvenile court to bullying Meyer-Crothers, who was tricked into licking a candy push pop that Miller and another boy had wiped in a bathroom urinal. Meyer-Crothers had to be tested for hepatitis, HIV and STDs, but the tests came back negative, according to a police report.

Meyer-Crothers, also 18 and who now lives in Detroit, said Miller had taunted him for years, constantly calling him “brownie” and the “N-word,” while repeatedly hitting him while growing up in the Toledo suburb. Other students at their junior high confirmed to police that Miller repeatedly used the “N-word” in referring to Meyer-Crothers.

As that information spread, more information surfaced, including from The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (sub required).

For one thing, at least 10 NHL teams removed Mitchell Miller from their draft lists, according to reporters including Portzline and TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

Meyer-Crothers family responds

Joni Meyer-Crothers, Isaiah’s mother, told Portzline that she considered sending a letter to all 31 NHL teams to warn them about drafting Mitchell Miller. Joni Meyer-Crothers said that, while Miller provided all 31 NHL teams with a letter of apology heading into the 2020 NHL Draft, Miller never apologized personally to Isaiah.

Joni Meyer-Crothers’ letter indicates that there were multiple incidents of abuse, and that it may have continued after things went to juvenile court. Joni Meyer-Crothers sent this letter to the Coyotes, via Portzline:

Hello – I’m the mother of the boy that Mitchell Miller bullied. I read the statements made by the GM (Bill Armstrong) etc. and find them demeaning to our son. Are you aware Mitchell NEVER apologized to our son? Are you aware two years ago he still taunted him? Are you aware this went on for years? Do you understand the mental damage Mitchell did to our son?

I respect you stating he sent all the NHL teams an apology, but wouldn’t it make sense if he was truly remorseful to send a letter to the kid that he brutally bullied both mentally and physically? Is it a surprise he sent all the NHL teams a letter because this was for his betterment?

Initially, the Coyotes framed this as a teaching moment of sorts. In a statement to the Arizona Republic, the team stated that “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.”

Clearly, the Coyotes decided they no longer wanted “to guide” Mitchell Miller after a few days.

Coyotes renounce Mitchell Miller after selecting him in 2020 NHL Draft

Along with renouncing Mitchell Miller’s draft rights, the Coyotes acknowledged that they knew about bullying incidents toward Isaiah Meyer-Crothers.

“We have decided to renounce the rights to Mitchell Miller, effective immediately,” Coyotes’ President Xavier Gutierrez said. “Prior to selecting Mitchell in the NHL Draft, we were aware that a bullying incident took place in 2016. We do not condone this type of behavior but embraced this 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. We have learned more about the entire matter, and more importantly, the impact it has had on Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family. 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.”

(Note: it’s crucial that Gutierrez and new Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong apologized to Isaiah Meyer-Crothers and his family, too. In some cases, victims of abuse don’t even receive a mention.)

In addition, the Coyotes’ release mentions their unusual draft circumstances.

As you may remember, Armstrong wasn’t able to run the Coyotes’ draft after coming over from the Blues. That information makes the entire chain of command cloudy.

For instance: Portzline reports that the Coyotes removed Miller from their draft list during a June meeting. That came before former GM John Chayka’s dramatic split in July, though.

Once-interim GM Steve Sullivan announced the Mitchell Miller pick, while Ryan Jankowski reportedly ran the Coyotes’ 2020 NHL Draft. Maybe it was Jankowski’s call, or Sullivan’s, or a collective one? Details like these only make things fuzzier (via Portzline):

According to NHL sources, Miller was not on Buffalo’s draft list when Jankowski was acting in his role as director of amateur scouting with the team.

Ultimately, the Coyotes selected Mitchell Miller in the fourth round, their first pick of the 2020 NHL Draft. Furthermore, the organization released a statement about it being a “teachable moment.” They earned the criticism they received, regardless of who actually chose Miller.

Coyotes have a lot to learn to become “a leader on diversity, inclusion, and equity”

Consider drafting Miller the worst decision in a series of blunders by the Coyotes. The Coyotes already didn’t make a 2020 NHL Draft selection until Miller at 111th, thanks to being bizarrely docked draft picks for testing prospects in illegal ways, and also the rental cost of Taylor Hall. This error, of course, goes far deeper than perceived incompetence.

For an organization touting its goals of being “a leader on diversity, inclusion, and equity,” drafting Miller is a brutal mistake. By renouncing Miller’s rights, the Coyotes at least avoided making yet another ugly error by digging in.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.