The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Coyotes renounce draft rights to player who admitted to horrific bullying incident

The NHL draft board from earlier this month. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes on Thursday renounced the draft rights to defenseman Mitchell Miller, whom they had selected in the fourth round of this month’s NHL entry draft even though he admitted to bullying a Black, developmentally disabled middle school classmate in 2016.

In a statement, Coyotes president and chief executive Xavier Gutierrez said team officials were aware of the bullying incident when they drafted Miller out of the University of North Dakota but “embraced” the chance to draft him “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.”

As reported Monday by the Arizona Republic, Miller and another classmate admitted in juvenile court to bullying Isaiah Meyer-Crothers while all three lived in suburban Toledo. Meyer-Crothers said Miller had taunted him for years, calling him “Brownie” and using the n-word, and that Miller and another boy had tricked him into licking candy that they had wiped in a bathroom urinal before assaulting him in an attack that was caught on surveillance cameras.

“He pretended to be my friend and made me do things I didn’t want to do,” Meyer-Crothers, who now is 18 but developmentally four years behind his peers, told the Republic. “In junior high, I got beat up by him. … Everyone thinks he’s so cool that he gets to go to the NHL, but I don’t see how someone can be cool when you pick on someone and bully someone your entire life.”

Miller and the other boy were charged with assault, admitted to the bullying in juvenile court, were sentenced to 25 hours of community service and were ordered to write an apology to Meyer-Crothers, who told the Republic that it “hurt my head” when he found out the Coyotes had drafted Miller.

“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,” Gutierrez, the NHL’s first Latino president and CEO who in September was named to the NHL’s Executive Inclusion Council, said in the statement. “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.”

Coyotes General Manager Bill Armstrong was hired only about two weeks before the draft and did not participate in the team’s draft selections this year under an agreement between the Coyotes and the St. Louis Blues, his former team.

“It was a unique situation for me not being able to participate in this year’s draft and we were going through a transition with our scouting department,” Armstrong said. “Mitchell is a good hockey player, but we need to do the right thing as an organization and not just as a hockey team. I’d like to apologize to Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family for everything they have dealt with the past few months. I wish them all the best in the future.”

After the story broke this week, Miller issued a statement through the Coyotes, saying, “I am extremely sorry about the bullying incident that occurred in 2016 while I was in eighth grade.”

“I was young, immature and feel terrible about my actions,” he continued. “At the time, I did not understand the gravity of my actions and how they can affect other people.”

Joni Meyer-Crothers, Isaiah’s mother, told the Republic that Miller never personally apologized to her son beyond the court-ordered letter.

Read more:

MLB investigating after Justin Turner ‘refused to comply’ with officials during celebration

Nebraska football is airing its grievances against the Big Ten, over and over and over

Amid the pandemic, college football’s powers ceded the stage. Enter Coastal Carolina.

If the Supreme Court tosses Obamacare, football players will feel the loss