In what was a short lived controversy this past week, the Boston Bruins signed and cut ties with prospect Mitchell Miller in a matter of days. On November 4, Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney announced that the team was signing defenseman Mitchell Miller to an entry-level contract. However, this was no ordinary signing. Miller was originally a draft pick of the Arizona Coyotes in 2020, but the team renounced its rights in him as a prospect. Miller previously admitted to bullying a black classmate who had developmental disabilities when he was fourteen years old. Miller and a friend tricked the classmate into licking a candy push pop that had been wiped in a bathroom urinal. In addition, the classmate stated Miller had used racial slurs around him. Once this incident came to light, the Coyotes renounced the draft pick.
In a statement following the signing, Miller stated, “When I was in eighth grade, I made an extremely poor decision and acted very immaturely, I bullied one of my classmates. I deeply regret the incident and have apologized to the individual. Since the incident, I have come to better understand the far-reaching consequences of my actions that I failed to recognize and understand nearly seven years ago. I strive to be a better person and positively contribute to society.”
As a result of this incident, Miller and a friend were convicted in court of assault and violating the Ohio Safe Schools Act. They were ordered to do 25 hours of community service, to write letters of apology, pay court costs, and undergo counseling. The victim’s mother stated that the other boy involved in the assault had since personally apologized but Miller had never apologized, other than writing the court mandated letter. At the time, she also said Miller initially lied about the incident, and only admitted to his involvement to prevent the surveillance video of the assault from being released.
Last fall, after Miller’s resumption of his junior hockey career, the father of Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, the victim, wrote an open letter to Miller, accusing him of using his status as an emerging hockey player to carry out years of abuse. In the statement, the father wrote, “[d]o you remember telling him, on one of those occasions, that his black family didn’t love him and that’s why he has a white family?” The family placed their adopted son in another school to help him avoid bullying, Crothers wrote, but he alleged that the incidents resumed when he and Miller later went to the same middle school.
The signing was met with significant backlash throughout the hockey community, including by members of the Boston Bruins. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Nick Foligno all publicly questioned the Bruins’ priorities and the signing in general. Bergeron said, “it goes against what we are as a culture and as a team, and for me as a person.” In response to all of the negative publicity surrounding the signing, Bruins President Cam Neely said, “I’m extremely upset that we have made a lot of people unhappy with our decision. I take pride in the Bruins organization and what we stand for, and we failed there.” He continued to offer an apology to the Bruins fanbase and the victim and his family.
The Bruins were aware of the bullying incident when they signed Miller, but believed the bullying was an isolated incident and that he had taken meaningful action to reform. Less than two days after signing Miller, the Bruins announced they were parting ways with Miller, effective immediately. Neely said the decision to release Miller was based on new information. When asked about the new information Neely said, “the fact that we didn’t talk to the family was concerning to me.” Neely also spoke about why the team decided to sign Miller in the first place:
“The timing was never, probably going to be good. It got down to the point, are we doing it or not, and we made the wrong decision. I do believe in second chances but maybe some don’t deserve it. I’m not saying it in particular in this situation, but I do believe in second chances. From everything I’ve heard, he was working on himself, working in programs to better himself. I was under the impression it was a 14-year-old kid who made a really, really bad decision and did some horrible things, and he’s 20 years old now. I was under the impression that he, in the last six years, had done a lot of work on himself.”
Along with backlash both internally and externally, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also weighed in on the signing. On Saturday, November 5, Bettman said the Bruins did not consult the league before re-signing Miller and that he would “need to see a whole bunch of things going forward.” Bettman further stated, “He’s not coming into the NHL, he’s not eligible at this point to come into the NHL. I can’t tell you that he’ll ever be eligible to come into the NHL. If in fact at some point they think they want him to play in the NHL — and I’m not sure they’re anywhere close to that point — we’re going to have to clear him and his eligibility, and it’ll be based on all the information that we get firsthand at the time.” The NHLPA is aware of Bettman’s comments and intends to reach out to the NHL in order to secure more information on Miller’s status.
Following his release, Miller’s agent stated, “Everyone knew what was at stake, everyone knew the risks they were taking, everyone knew everything. Nothing has come up or resurfaced that has been different from everything that you’ve seen before. And that’s why I put a timeline together because I have not been able to find any new information or new accounts that have happened.” The agent’s remarks appear to contradict Neely’s statement that new information was the cause of Miller’s release.
While the Bruins had to have known that the decision to sign Miller would be met with some backlash, given his history, it is likely the team was unaware of the extent that the backlash would span. What was likely seen as a quick headache to sign a very talented player (Miller won the USHL’s MVP award in May), evolved into a national controversy in a matter of hours. Many feel that Miller was insincere in his apology and truly feels no remorse for his actions, but pretending he does is the only way for him to make it to the NHL.
However, it raises the question of if/when Miller may get the opportunity to move forward and continue his hockey career. What must he do in order to receive a second-chance at playing in the NHL? Is there a certain apology or course of action that would make the NHL and the public comfortable with Miller signing another contract and being eligible to play in the NHL? Many feel that Miller should never be allowed to play in the NHL because making it to the NHL is a privilege, and one must conduct themselves in a certain way to be eligible. Others, while condemning his actions, have compared this situation to a prison sentence, in which at some point Miller should have an opportunity at a second chance. It will be an interesting situation to monitor as more information is brought forward. There may be some potential NHLPA action on Miller’s behalf, however, it appears that Miller will not be able to receive another NHL contract in the near future. The Bruins will continue to be on the hook for Miller’s AHL contract, as well as his signing bonus.