It is a privilege to play in the NHL. It is a privilege to play in the NFL. Neither is a right, like access to clean drinking water or shelter.
And as such, there are expectations for how players who have earned the privilege to play in either league should behave, during games and away from games.
It’s not just a growing swath of fans and media who believe this — it’s the leagues themselves, who implement rules and potential punishments based on personal conduct, and create marketing campaigns with slogans like “#HockeyIsForEveryone.”
But here’s a little public relations tip for those leagues, free of charge: when you go public with rules and hashtags you actually have to, you know, back them up with action.
Rushing to sign a player who has been accused by no fewer than four women of domestic abuse and/or sexual assault and impropriety in addition to being a petulant teammate, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did this week with Antonio Brown, does not reinforce the idea that the NFL nor this member club are particularly concerned with the behavior of players, at least not highly talented ones.
Drafting a player in the fourth round whose past and present raise so many red flags that some teams had dropped him from their boards, as the Arizona Coyotes did with Mitchell Miller, does not reinforce the idea that the NHL “is for everyone.”
On Thursday, after backlash from many corners, the Coyotes backtracked, renouncing the rights to Miller.
It was the right thing to do, but it shouldn’t have had to come to this point — Miller shouldn’t have been drafted at all, not if the Coyotes had truly done their homework.
Not if the NHL actually wants “#HockeyIsForEveryone” to ever be anything more than a social media hashtag. Not if Arizona CEO Xavier Gutierrez, a member of the league’s Executive Inclusion Council, which is focused on combating racism and promoting diversity in hockey, actually believes in those ideas.
What Miller did to Isaiah Meyer-Crothers was heinous, and what’s worse, according to the victim and his family, Miller has shown no contrition for his behavior in the time since.
Via reporting from the Arizona Republic and The Athletic, Miller terrorized classmate Isaiah Meyer-Crothers when the two were growing up together in Sylvania, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo. Meyer-Crothers is Black, and also developmentally disabled. Mentally, he’s about four years behind his same-age peers. He says that Miller began calling him the N-word and “brownie” in second grade, and also hit him.
But that wasn’t enough for Miller. Four years ago, when the two were 14 (but remember, Meyer-Crothers had the mental abilities of a 10-year-old), Miller and a second boy, Hunter McKie, convinced Meyer-Crothers to lick a push pop candy that they had wiped in a bathroom urinal, laughing as he did. They also repeatedly bashed his head into a brick wall when Meyer-Crothers tried to fight back.
Some accounts of the incident given to police said Miller and McKie had urinated on the candy first.
Miller went far beyond bullying. That kind of behavior is not a “mistake,” as one of Miller’s coaches said. It is not the typical shenanigans of a 14-year-old.
It is vile. It is a hate crime, and the victim was a disabled peer.
Miller and McKie admitted to what they’d done in court; Joni Meyer-Crothers told the Republic that they did so because the urinal incident and fight were on surveillance video and in a trial the video would have been shown.
After admitting to misdemeanors, Miller and McKie were each sentenced to just 25 hours of community service, ordered to write an apology through the court system to Meyer-Crothers, and participate in counseling.
McKie broke down and began crying as he personally apologized to Isaiah, and Isaiah has forgiven him.
Conversely, Miller has never apologized, and Joni says that the family never received the court-ordered written apology either. She also contends that even though Miller was required to stay away from her son, he would rollerblade past their house after the court case, which she took as his way of continuing to taunt Isaiah.
Mitchell Miller is not the victim. He wasn’t four years ago, and he isn’t now.
Playing in the NHL is a privilege, one that he hasn’t earned.
And one that never should have been on the table, not if the league is serious about being more welcoming for Black players and fans.
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