When Will Hockey Really Be For Everyone? The Mitchell Miller Situation.

This week, a story hit the online hockey space that was unknown to many, though not all, previously. Arizona Coyotes 4th round draft pick (and their first pick of the draft), Mitchell Miller, along with another teenage boy, “was charged with assault and violating the Ohio Safe Schools Act in February 2016” for their absolutely disgusting, egregious, dangerous attack on Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, a Black, developmentally disabled classmate of theirs. Police reports and accounts from Isaiah’s mother document a history of bullying, harassment, and violence that culminated in the incident for which Miller was charged.

The details of the incident, and the history of violence Miller perpetrated against Isaiah, have been thoroughly documented in a number of articles and posts, including the original story linked above. The attempts to contact him have been documented as well. This post isn’t about the details of the horrific incident or the history of racism and bullying, but rather the response in and around the league, highlighting yet again that hockey isn’t really for everyone, and it definitely isn’t for you if your skin isn’t white, you aren’t able-bodied, and you don’t have the financial means to access expensive training, coaching, and legal advisors.

When the story broke, the Coyotes did issue a statement addressing all of this.

“Our fundamental mission is to ensure a safe environment — whether in schools, in our community, in hockey rinks, or in the workplace — to be free of bullying and racism. When we first learned of Mitchell’s story, it would have been easy for us to dismiss him — many teams did.  Instead, we felt it was our responsibility to be a part of the solution in a real way — not just saying and doing the right things ourselves but ensuring that others are too,” the statement said.

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Their statement is a perfect example of who hockey is truly for. The team felt it was their responsibility to be part of the solution. Not by contacting the Meyer-Crothers family, as his mother has indicated that never happened, to hear things from their perspective. Not by showing Mitchell Miller that egregious acts of hate and violence have long term consequences. No.

The Arizona Coyotes, and by default the NHL, decided to be part of the solution by ignoring this young man’s violent criminal history, hand-waving it away, and drafting him to be an NHL player.

There are some who seem to agree with and support the Coyotes decision:

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The text of the tweet, which has been deleted after quite a bit of backlash, reads “People will be upset at Mitchell Miller because he did an awful thing when he was 14 years old. Think about all the shit you did when you were younger and ask yourself if deserved [sic] to be canceled instead of giving [sic] the opportunity to learn from your mistakes.”

The tweet, as mentioned, received quite a bit of backlash on Twitter, with many people responding with what they were doing at 14, and other comments about how 14 year olds are plenty old enough to know right from wrong, to know better, and to be held accountable for their actions. Furthermore, there has been much said about whether Miller has in fact learned from his mistakes or feels any remorse. More on that shortly.

This tweet shows how the situation with Miller and the Coyotes not only highlights the NHL’s absolute farce of a “commitment” to diversity, equity, and inclusion, it has also spurred conversations about “cancel culture:” what it means, when it’s warranted, and whether it actually exists at all.

The idea of “cancel culture” as it relates to hockey has been top of mind for many lately, as hockey players make decisions and post statements or memes that many take issue with. As fans respond with disappointment, anger, upset, and even public denouncement of the players, others condemn the idea of “canceling” people for this type of behaviour. But what does “canceling” someone really mean, in this context?

When it comes to Miller, the idea of “canceling” him would actually be what many think of canceling as – he would not be awarded (or rewarded) with an NHL contract after his crimes. He would lose the opportunity to earn a living by playing the game he loves. This is the most extreme level of “canceling” – impacting someone’s livelihood.

But what canceling really, truly, means, when you boil it down, is being held accountable for, and having to answer for, one’s decisions and behaviours. Sometimes, that’s as simple as actually just…responding. Answering questions fans have about why a choice was made. Maybe issuing an explanation, or apology, for behaviour that upset people. Making a commitment, if warranted, to not engage in the same behaviour moving forward.

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But sometimes, the decision or behaviour was so egregious that losing financial opportunities is appropriate. And that is the case with Mitchell Miller. He does not deserve, he has no right to, a hockey career. And the Arizona Coyotes should not be awarding him the opportunity to have one.

This tweet sums up that thought pretty succinctly:

In any situation, large or small, we hope that someone who has harmed another will show remorse, apologize and make amends, and demonstrate growth. If that is done, then perhaps there is an opportunity for a “second chance”, as the Coyotes reference. But has Mitchell Miller earned his second chance? Has he demonstrated growth, or shown remorse?

According to the mother of his victim, that answer is a resounding No.

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The Hockey Diversity Alliance agrees with her, and is calling on the Coyotes to respond:

Mitchell Miller never apologized. He has not shown remorse, and in fact following the incident for which he was charged he continued to taunt and harass Isaiah.

By drafting Miller, by not doing their due diligence to contact and hear from the Meyer-Crothers family, the Arizona Coyotes and the NHL are tacitly condoning this behaviour and taking it on themselves to absolve Miller of his responsibility to make amends and show growth. Every team that entertained the thought of drafting him shares some of this, as well. And by not reporting on this sooner, the hockey media who were aware of the situation played a part, too.

Earlier this month, the San Jose Sharks made headlines when they drafted Ozzy Wiesblatt in ASL, so that his mother, who is Deaf, would understand.

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This moment was applauded and heralded by many for demonstrating how far the NHL has come in its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

But it is clear now that this was, at best, an exception to the rule. No organization that embraces the likes of Mitchell Miller is committed to inclusion. No league that allows him to play at the NHL level, his past crimes unchecked, is truly for everyone.

As white, able-bodied fans, and members of the media, it is our job to keep asking for more, for better, from the league and our teams. Our voices as allies matter, and now is the time to make them heard.

And so we are here, asking again, and again. When will hockey be for everyone?

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Author’s Note: A few hours after this post was published, the Arizona Coyotes renounced Miller as their draft pick.