NHL's Coyotes reverse course, cut ties with draft pick who bullied Black schoolmate

The Arizona Coyotes renounced the rights to Mitchell Miller on Thursday just days after defending their decision to select him in the fourth round of the NHL entry draft.

Hockey Diversity Alliance was critical of NHL, team after selecting Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller (4) is shown representing the U.S. at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup tournament in Edmonton. (Codie McLachlan/Canadian Press)

The Arizona Coyotes renounced their rights Thursday to their top 2020 draft pick after saying they learned more about his bullying of a Black classmate with developmental disabilities four years ago.

The team parted ways with Mitchell Miller after taking criticism for selecting him in the fourth round earlier this month despite knowing of his 2016 assault conviction. Arizona acknowledged it knew about the incident when it selected Miller 111th overall.

"We do not condone this type of behaviour 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," President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said.

"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."

Miller pleaded guilty at age 14 to one count of assault and one count of violation of the Ohio Safe Schools Act. He and another teenager were accused of making 14-year-old Isaiah Meyer-Crothers eat a candy push pop after wiping it in a bathroom urinal, and surveillance video showed them kicking and punching him.

Meyer-Crothers told the Arizona Republic earlier in October he was stunned and saddened when he found out the Coyotes drafted Miller, who he said taunted him with racist language and repeatedly hit him when they were growing up in a suburb of Toledo.

"It hurt my heart to be honest," Meyer-Crothers told the newspaper. "It's stupid that [the Coyotes] didn't go back and look what happened in the past, but I can't do anything about it."

Miller sent a letter to all 31 NHL teams acknowledging what happened and apologizing for his behaviour. Meyer-Crothers's mother, Joni, said Miller never personally apologized to Isaiah or their family other than a court-mandated letter.

New general manager Bill Armstrong, who was not allowed to participate in the draft as a condition of the Coyotes hiring him away from the St. Louis Blues, voiced support for the decision.

"Mitchell is a good hockey player, but we need to do the right thing as an organization and not just as a hockey team," Armstrong said. "I'd like to apologize to Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family for everything they have dealt with the past few months."

Miller was the Coyotes' top pick in the draft because former GM John Chayka traded their first-rounder to New Jersey for winger Taylor Hall — who since left in free agency — and their third-rounder to Colorado for forward Carl Soderberg, and their second-rounder was forfeited for violating scouting combine policy. Arizona also was stripped of its 2021 first-round pick for breaking NHL rules by conducting physical testing of draft-eligible players.

The 18-year-old defenceman becomes a free agent, effective immediately.

"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," said Gutierrez, who earlier this year became the first Latino CEO in the league. "Mr. Miller is now a free agent and can pursue his dream of becoming an NHL player elsewhere."

The Coyotes said they and their charitable foundation will look to partner with local organizations that combat bullying and racism.

Advocacy group says practice what you preach

On Wednesday night, the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA), an advocacy group led by San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane and ex-NHL player Akim Aliu, posted a message to social media challenging the Coyotes and the league to "start practising what they preach."

Formed in June, the HDA had hoped the NHL would partner in its mission to "eradicate systemic racism and intolerance in hockey."

However, the group decided to part ways with the NHL in early October, asserting the league was not committed to addressing racial inequality. 

WATCH | CBC Sports' Jamie Strashin discusses HDA split from NHL:

Hockey Diversity Alliance separates from NHL over lack of action

2 years ago
Duration 2:03
The Hockey Diversity Alliance has announced it will separate from the NHL after months of negotiations. The initiative led by Black NHL players said it didn't see enough action from the league, only performative public relations efforts.

The HDA pointed to Item No. 6 of its pledge on Wednesday which says in part: "We will not support, partner with or accept support from any organization that has engaged in, promoted or failed to appropriately respond to racist conduct in their organization of any kind."

In September, the NHL released a set of initiatives, including mandatory training for players, aimed at fighting racial inequality and to promote inclusion.

But the HDA said it felt a lack of commitment from the NHL in putting the plan in place. 

"We have waited many months for a response to the common sense HDA pledge we proposed, and it is clear that the NHL is not prepared to make any measurable commitments to end systemic racism in hockey," the HDA said in the statement.

With files from CBC Sports and The Canadian Press

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