The Boston Bruins have parted ways with player Mitchell Miller less than three days after they signed the controversial defenceman.
Miller relinquished his draft rights after it surfaced in 2020 that he and a classmate had been convicted of assaulting and bullying a developmentally disabled Black classmate in 2016.
The Bruins announced Sunday that they were rescinding their entry-level contract offer, which was signed on Friday, saying that “new information” had informed their decision.
According to ESPN, Miller was a fourth-round draft pick by the Arizona Coyotes in 2020, but shortly after he was drafted, an article by the Arizona Republic detailed how Miller and his classmate were convicted in 2016 of racially abusing and bullying Isaiah Meyer-Crothers.
The Coyotes initially defended their decision to draft Miller, saying in a statement that they felt it was their “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.”
According to The Associated Press, Miller ultimately had his draft rights relinquished less than a month later, and was released from his scholarship at the University of North Dakota.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney told NHL.com on Friday that he had personally wrestled with the decision and had talked at length with his family about it.
The Bruins’ decision to sign Miller was met with criticism from players. Team captain Patrice Bergeron told SportsNet he was consulted on the possibility of his team signing Miller and he was “on the fence.”
“The culture that we built here goes against that type of behaviour,” Bergeron said. “In this locker room, we’re all about inclusion, diversity, respect.”
Boston forward Nick Foligno called the signing “hard to swallow.”
“Tough thing to hear for our group,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie to you. I don’t think any guy was too happy.”
The Bruins released a statement by Miller on Friday.
“When I was in eighth grade, I made an extremely poor decision and acted very immaturely,” the statement read. “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.”
“… To be clear, what I did when I was 14 years old was wrong and unacceptable. There is no place in this world for being disrespectful to others and I pledge to use this opportunity to speak out against mistreating others.”
Team president Cam Neely said in a statement Sunday that the team was under the impression that Miller’s previous bullying of Meyer-Crothers was an isolated incident and reversed course based on new information.
“We owe it to our fans, players, staff, partners and community to make sure that our practices and protocols are in keeping with the ethos that we demand from ourselves and as an organization,” Neely said. “As such, we will be reevaluating our internal processes for vetting individuals who wish to earn the privilege of playing in the National Hockey League for the Boston Bruins.”
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 Meyer-Crothers eat a candy push pop after wiping it in a bathroom urinal, and surveillance video showed them kicking and punching him.
“We are sorry that this decision has overshadowed the incredible work the members of our organization do to support diversity and inclusion efforts,” Neely said, offering his apology to Meyer-Crothers and his family and saying the team stands against bullying and racism.
“I think there is a lesson to be learned here for other young people. Be mindful of careless behaviours and going with the group mentality of hurting others. The repercussions can be felt for a lifetime.”
— With files from The Associated Press