NHL Team Parts Ways With Player Convicted Of Bullying Classmate With Disability
BOSTON — On Friday, Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney conceded that he didn’t know if it was the right thing to sign prospect Mitchell Miller. A little more than 48 hours later, he got the answer.
In a statement released by the team at 9 p.m. on Sunday, team president Cam Neely announced that the Bruins were parting ways with Miller, who was convicted in a juvenile court in Ohio of bullying a Black classmate with a developmental disability. In interviews with the Herald and other outlets the victim Isaiah Meyer-Crothers’ mother, Joni, said the abuse lasted for over a decade and was not just one incident.
The move comes after two days of intense backlash throughout the hockey world, the Bruins’ fandom and even barely veiled criticism from the teams’ leadership group.
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From start to finish, it was an unmitigated disaster that brought the Bruins’ organizational character into question.
“Today the Boston Bruins have decided to part ways with Mitchell Miller, effective immediately,” read Neely’s statement. “The decision to sign this young man was made after careful consideration of the facts as we were aware of them: that at 14-years-old he made a poor decision that led to a juvenile conviction. We understood this to be an isolated incident and that he had taken meaningful action to reform and was committed to ongoing personal development. Based on that understanding we offered him a contract.
“Based on new information, we believe it is the best decision at this time to rescind the opportunity for Mitchell Miller to represent the Boston Bruins. We hope that he continues to work with professionals and programs to further his education and personal growth.
“We owe it to our fans, players, staff, partners and community to make sure that our practices and protocols are in keeping with the ethos that we demand from ourselves and as an organization. As such, we will be reevaluating our internal processes for vetting individuals who wish to earn the privilege of playing in the National Hockey League for the Boston Bruins.
“We are sorry that this decision has overshadowed the incredible work the members of our organization do to support diversity and inclusion efforts. We will continue to stand against bullying and racism in all of its forms.
“To Isaiah and his family, my deepest apologies if this signing made you and other victims feel unseen and unheard. We apologize for the deep hurt and impact we have caused.
“Finally, as a father, I think there is a lesson to be learned here for other young people. Be mindful of careless behaviors and going with the group mentality of hurting others. The repercussions can be felt for a lifetime.”
Whether or not the National Hockey League Players’ Association decides to contest the Bruins’ action was not immediately clear. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had said on Saturday that Miller was not eligible to play in the NHL and would have to clear some unspecified hurdles before he could. Scott Howson, president of the American Hockey League, the NHL’s development league, had planned to meet with Miller in the coming days to discuss what steps he had to take in order to make him eligible to play in the league. Miller had practiced with the Providence Bruins, a development team for the Boston Bruins, on Friday.
Contacted Sunday after the news broke, Joni Meyer-Crothers said she hopes Miller can grow from this.
“As sad as this is, Mitchell needs help so that he can understand the damage that he did to our son,” she said. “We wish none of this had ever happened. We wish Isaiah never had to deal with the bullying that he did. But at some point Mitchell does need to get help for what he did. He does need to understand that, yes, he may be a talented hockey player. But your character needs to come first and foremost and he does need to get help. He does need to realize how he damaged our son. With that said, all these NHL teams and all these other teams are looking at Mitchell to rehabilitate him, but they’re forgetting that there’s also a victim. Isaiah’s a victim. He also needs help. Who’s reaching out to help him?”
Meyer-Crothers said that former NHLer Joel Ward, one of the founders of the Hockey Diversity Alliance (which has no formal connection to the league), has been talking with Isaiah as well as the family. She said that she hadn’t heard from the Bruins throughout the saga.
Meyer-Crothers said a simple phone call would have let them know the extent of the bullying.
“Had they done their due diligence, they should have known that,” she said. “They could have reached out to us and we could have given them documentation after documentation after documentation. It’s a very sad situation all around. But honestly, as long as both boys get the help that they need and they can grow from this, that’s what needs to happen.”
Ever since the signing on Friday, howls of protest throughout their fandom on social media and in a letter-writing campaign. But perhaps the most damning aspect of the saga came on Saturday morning in Toronto when members of the Bruins’ leadership group — Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Nick Foligno — made it clear that they were less than thrilled with their signing.
While Bergeron expressed some optimism that Miller would be able to grow, it was clear that he was uncomfortable with the signing.
“The culture we built here goes against that type of behavior. We’re a team built with character and character people. What he did is unacceptable and we don’t stand by that. In this locker room, we are all about inclusion, diversity, respect,” said Bergeron after the team’s morning skate in Toronto on Saturday.
“Those are key words and core values that we have. We expect guys who wear this jersey to be high-character people with integrity and respect. Hopefully there is growth and change. If it’s the same 14-year-old walking into this locker room, he would not be accepted and wanted and welcomed. Our culture is not going to change. It’s something that I’m proud of. We don’t need to change. The changes are from the individual himself.”
Foligno echoed those sentiments.
“It’s tough. It’s a hard topic. The organization is not going to do something that that would jeopardize (the team’s culture). But in saying that, it’s not something that anyone in this room stands for,” said Foligno. “It was a tough thing to hear for our group. I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t think any guy was too happy because of how proud we are to say this is a group that cares a lot about ourselves and how we carry ourselves and how we treat people.”
Said Marchand: “We have a culture in this organization and in this room … We obviously don’t condone what happened and that will never be a part of our team and organization. If he’s with our group, it’s because he’s shown he’s learned and matured and he’s come a long way. It’s going to be a very long process for him.”
But that process, at least as far as the Bruins are concerned, is now over.
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