On Monday, The Arizona Republic published a sickening article detailing the Coyotes’ 2020 fourth-round draft pick Mitchell Miller’s bullying of a Black classmate with developmental disabilities four years ago. The abuse, which reportedly lasted years, involved racial slurs, physical contact and getting the victim to lick a push-pop that had been rubbed inside a urinal.
Thursday, the Coyotes organization announced that it had renounced the rights to Miller, who was the club’s first selection of the draft. Then Friday, the University of North Dakota men’s ice hockey team cut ties with him.
“We have decided to renounce the rights to Mitchell Miller, effective immediately,” Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said in the team’s news release. “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.”
According to the victim’s mother, Joni Meyer-Crothers, in a letter she sent to the Coyotes after the draft, which was released by The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline on Tuesday, Miller never apologized to her son.
“I read the statements made by the GM (Bill Armstrong) etc. and find them demeaning to our son,” she wrote. “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?”
Meyer-Crothers told Portzline she sent the letter to the organization after the draft but had not heard back — until now.
“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,” Gutierrez’s statement continued. “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.”
The move also comes less than 24 hours after the Hockey Diversity Alliance called out the Arizona franchise and asked it to sign the HDA pledge.
“I fully support our decision to renounce Mitchell Miller’s draft rights,” Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong added in the statement on Thursday, once again noting that he was not able to participate in the draft because of an agreement with the Blues, his former club, when he was hired Sept. 17. “Mitchell is a good hockey player, but we need to do the right thing as an organization and not just as a hockey team.”
The Coyotes selected Miller in the fourth round after trading away their first- and third-round picks and had to forfeit their second-round pick because of scouting combine violations.
When selected by the Coyotes, Miller was a freshman defenseman for the University of North Dakota. The school has now kicked him off its hockey team.
“We expect our students to live by our values in the classroom, in the community and when representing the University on the field of play,” president Andrew Armacost wrote in a statement released on Twitter on Friday.
“After much consideration and discussions … I have decided that the best course of action for Mitchell and the University is that he no longer be a member of the UND Men’s Hockey program. Mitchell may remain a student at UND and we will continue to support his future intellectual and interpersonal growth.”
That statement comes just days after the hockey program released a statement that seemed to support Mitchell.
“We were aware of an unfortunate incident that occurred with Mitchell in eighth grade. We made a decision that our program could provide him the necessary infrastructure and culture to hone not only his hockey abilities but most importantly, assist him in his continuing growth as a human being which will last him the remainder of his life.”
Mitchell was also invited to USA Hockey’s October National Junior Evaluation Camp for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship roster. There has been no comment from USA Hockey thus far.