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After severing ties with problematic prospect Mitchell Miller, Bruins still have questions to answer

There is a lot the Boston Bruins have yet to explain, even after releasing prospect Mitchell Miller on Sunday night and after team president Cam Neely met with media on Monday morning.

Nothing team officials have said, in statements or in front of cameras, offers a satisfying answer as to why the Bruins, who are off to an 10-2-0 start this season, signed Miller, a 20-year-old defenseman, to a three-year rookie contract and open a gaping, entirely self-inflicted injury on an organization that was doing just fine.

Neely and general manager Don Sweeney brought all of this on themselves, and even after four days of outrage from Boston fans and the hockey community at large, they still don't seem to understand why signing Miller was a terrible idea. This was a person who subjected a Black developmentally disabled classmate to years of racial and physical abuse and who has, according to the victim's family, never shown true remorse for his behavior.

When even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, a frequent piñata of media and fans alike during his nearly 30-year tenure for myriad unpopular stances and decisions, is on the side of keeping Miller out of the league for his "reprehensible, unacceptable" behavior as a teenager, the Bruins could not be more in the wrong.

But on Monday, there was Neely at the team's practice facility, passing the buck when it came to why there hadn't been communication with the family of Mitchell's bullying victim, Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, before the Bruins signed Mitchell, and solemnly rueing that they'd ever made the deal given the significant backlash the team had faced.

Boston Bruins president Cam Neely said the team “dropped the ball
Boston Bruins president Cam Neely said the team “dropped the ball" with its internal vetting of defenseman Mitchell Miller, who the team parted ways with on Sunday. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

In his statement Sunday night to announce that the team had "parted ways" with Miller, Neely said the Bruins made the decision "based on new information." The reality is, all the information he needed had been available for two years.

While the situation Miller and a classmate faced charges for made headlines two years ago when Miller was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes, it wasn't an isolated incident. And the Arizona Republic and The Athletic at the time reported as such. Yes, when Miller was 14 he and another boy were convicted of bullying for getting Meyer-Crothers to lick a push pop candy they had wiped in a school urinal (and may have urinated on it too, according to some people who spoke to police at the time) and then bashed his head against the wall when he fought back. The incident was caught on surveillance video in their school and would have been shown in court had they not pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor first.

But according to Joni Meyer-Crothers, Miller had been calling Isaiah the N-word since second grade. She also alleges Miller called her son "brownie" and told him "go pick cotton," and that Miller's abuse escalated over the years. Despite the conviction in juvenile court, Miller never apologized directly to Isaiah (the second boy did, tearfully) and still has not.

All of this was in multiple news stories published well before Boston signed Miller. And a phone call to the Meyer-Crothers family in the days before the contract was finalized would have affirmed whether Isaiah had gotten and accepted an apology from Miller.

If they had made that call to the Meyer-Crothers family — Neely indicated an unnamed member of the organization should have done it — maybe the Bruins could have avoided this mess. They could have found out if Miller had given any sign that he understands how heinous his behavior was and if he sincerely feels remorse for the unrepentant, racist bullying of a classmate who had the mental capacity of a 10-year-old when peers were 14.

We'd be remiss if we didn't pause and give props to the Bruins players and the team's fans. Captain Patrice Bergeron and other veteran players said publicly, even before the team ultimately severed the deal, that Miller did not fit into the club's culture. Longtime captain Zdeno Chara, who retired after the 2021-2022 season and spent over a decade as Bruins captain, was so committed to a positive team culture that he did not allow rookie hazing. He didn't even call those players "rookies," using "first-year players" instead.

Bergeron learned from Chara, and on Monday said he spoke out against the Miller signing "to stay true to my values."

"It's important sometimes to stand up for what you think is wrong," Bergeron said. "That situation goes back to what we've built here as an organization, as a locker room it's to be inclusive and a locker room of respect and integrity."

Fans were so mad that they flooded a team email address for fan relations, and the Bruins' tweets were met with thousands of angry replies, many of them calling for Sweeney and/or Neely to be fired.

On Friday, Sweeney almost inexplicably reasoned that since other teams were supposedly interested in signing Miller, why not Boston? He also admitted that he wasn't sure the signing was the right move and whether he'd be able to forgive Miller if the victim had been his child.

So again, why did the Bruins do this?

If we're hoping for clear answers, they haven't come yet and may never.