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Mitchell Miller signing proves hockey has learned nothing

Mitchell Miller signed an entry-level deal with the Boston Bruins on Friday. (via USHL)
Mitchell Miller signed an entry-level deal with the Boston Bruins on Friday. (via USHL)

The Boston Bruins have signed Mitchell Miller. With that signing, according to hockey scholars, it has again been made abundantly clear that hockey has learned nothing, and that the insidious and toxic culture of the game persists.

Originally selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2020 NHL Draft, Miller has a history. In school, Miller used racist slurs, including the N-word, toward a Black classmate and bullied the individual, who was also disabled. This bullying included tricking the student into licking candy that had been rubbed in a urinal. The acts, which included Miller physically assaulting his classmate throughout junior high, saw Miller convicted in a juvenile court.

According to the victim, Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, “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’s NHL dream, once taken away after the Coyotes renounced the selection shortly after the draft, has returned. As his victim stated, Miller may soon get to “go to the NHL” as a member of the Bruins. According to noted hockey scholar Dr. Kristi Allain, an associate professor at St. Thomas University, the signing speaks to the values within the sport, and within the NHL.

“It’s really a demonstration of what the NHL and its teams value,” Allain told Yahoo Sports Canada. “They use equity and diversity as a marketing strategy without actually engaging in the hard work of understanding what a socially just organization might look like. This signing undermines any efforts the league and its teams might take toward social justice.”

In fact, the signing comes only days after the NHL released its first ever diversity and inclusion report. The report itself focused on employees within the NHL, and marketing to Black, Indigenous, People of Color rather than addressing systemic barriers and issues within the game. Those actions were left to individual teams, a strategy that, according to Taylor McKee, who researches sociocultural intersections of sport and society and is an assistant professor at Brock University, is failing, as evidenced by the Bruins’ signing of Miller.

“It's absolutely galling that the sport of hockey keeps failing what amounts to bare minimum tests regarding genuine commitments to progress on DEI [diversity, equity, inclusion] issues,” McKee said to Yahoo Sports Canada. “Delegating DEI to individual teams is not a viable strategy for the exact reason we see today with the Bruins. "Unless compelled to, teams will sublimate all other concerns underneath a perceived competitive enhancement. Professional hockey is an immense privilege afforded only to those chosen. It is time to hold those that choose accountable.”

It’s similar criticism to what the Montreal Canadiens faced earlier this season when they signed prospect Logan Mailloux, who was convicted of a sexual offense in Sweden prior to the team selecting him in the 2021 NHL Draft.

As Allain says, players, regardless of their crimes and actions, will only be held accountable in hockey if they’re unable to provide a competitive advantage to NHL or junior hockey organizations.

“Bad actors are only held accountable if teams don’t believe they’ll help them win,” said Allain. “I’m disheartened by the signing. The deep-rooted problems in men’s hockey culture can only persist when teams sign players like this.”

With the signings of Miller, Mailloux, and the presence of yet-to-be named perpetrators in the alleged 2018 Hockey Canada sexual assaults in the NHL, the league continues to add participants in hockey’s toxic — and often violent — culture to the fold.

Despite Miller’s off-ice actions, he’s continued to be heralded by the hockey world, being recognized as the USHL’s player of the year and defender of the year last season. The USHL bestowing those honors on Miller drew significant criticism for upholding “ongoing legacies of racism, misogyny, and homophobia” in hockey. Now, Miller brings his past to the NHL, and not only did the Bruins sign the defender to an entry-level pact, but the organization defended that signing in its initial news release while acknowledging Miller’s history.

“Representing the Boston Bruins is a privilege we take seriously as an organization," said Bruins President Cam Neely in a team statement. "Respect and integrity are foundational character traits we expect of our players and staff. Prior to signing Mitchell, our Hockey Operations and Community Relations groups spent time with him over the last few weeks to better understand who he is as an individual and learn more about a significant mistake he made when he was in middle school.

"During this evaluation period, Mitchell was accountable for his unacceptable behavior and demonstrated his commitment to work with multiple organizations and professionals to further his education and use his mistake as a teachable moment for others. The expectation is that he will continue this important educational work with personal development and community programs as a member of the Bruins organization."

While the Bruins state they “spent time” evaluating the situation, without consultation with the victim themself or experts, Allain states the signing is “unconscionable.”

“Although it is not impossible for a player, or any person, to change, it is hard to understand what the process was that led this player to this change and what his motivation might have been,” said Allain. “I have serious questions about how Boston made this determination. Which experts did they consult? How did they determine that this player had redeemed himself – something he was reported to have not done when facing legal consequences for his actions?

"Miller's history of abuse is reported to stretch years, this is not the one-time actions of a 14-year-old. It is therefore imperative to assess what reparations this player has made to that family and to that individual. Short of this, it is unconscionable for any team to sign him.”

Still, the Bruins did in fact sign Miller, who will soon make his professional hockey debut with the organization’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Providence Bruins, and he could soon achieve his dream of playing in the NHL.

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