Hockey prospect Mitchell Miller needs better guidance than he is getting

Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were two players who spoke out against the team signing Mitchell Miller. (Associated Press - image credit)
Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were two players who spoke out against the team signing Mitchell Miller. (Associated Press - image credit)

This is a column by Shireen Ahmed, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

In recent years, news about hockey seems to bring less joy than it does frustration.

Be it Kyle Beach's story of abuse with the Chicago NHL team, the on-going controversy in Hockey Canada surrounding rape allegations by some members of its national junior teams, or Logan Mailloux being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens despite his plea not to be considered because of his being convicted of sharing sexual photos of a woman without her consent. It all leaves hockey fans with little encouragement or happiness about the culture that exists.

When Mitchell Miller, 20, was offered a contract by the Boston Bruins last week, there was an immediate response of anger from fans, media and even players.

As a 14-year-old, Miller pleaded guilty to bullying Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, a 14-year-old Black student with developmental disabilities. Details of the assaults are disturbing, as Meyer-Crothers detailed in a statement he released Wednesday, and he also describes the online abuse he has suffered since news of the Bruins' attempted signing was revealed.

As disturbing is the fact Miller, according to Meyer-Crothers' mother, has not yet reached out to the family in any meaningful way outside a court-mandated letter.

That is something I can't stop thinking about. Miller's apparent lack of remorse is unsettling. And so is pushing a young man into the spotlight again for the sake of hockey when he might not be ready for it, and all the while re-traumatizing the victim.

In response to the backlash, Miller's agent, Eustace King of O2K Management, released a statement that mentioned the importance of Loretta Ross' ideology of "counsel not cancel," which I think is important. The on-line replies to the statement, though, were scathing, with many pointing out there was no mention of the victim. And many of the organizations cited in the statement as working with Miller publicly disagreed that was the case.

Finally, on Sunday, Bruins president Cam Neely announced the organization had rescinded its offer to Miller, and on Monday admitted the team "dropped the ball" in properly vetting him and not consulting with the Meyer-Crothers family.

"It's a great question," Neely said when asked why the team hadn't reached out to the family. "Something I need to find out."

It's a terrible situation and for those who genuinely want to see Miller have a chance to work and improve himself and truly make amends with Meyer-Crothers, the hockey community and to himself. How can we expect this 20-year-old to navigate this mess on his own when all the people around him are making such deplorable decisions?

WATCH | NATIONAL: NHL signee deemed ineligible due to extreme bullying:

It gets even more ridiculous when we remember that this has happened before. Yes, friends I wrote about it then, too. In 2020 the Arizona Coyotes drafted Miller and much like what happened with the Bruins, they eventually backtracked and renounced their rights to him. We see the same errors again.

What does this tell us about hockey?

Neely acknowledged making the contract offer was a failure of the organization. But I don't believe it was a failure as much as it is indicative of how little hockey folks really want to make this sport better.

At the same time, there are spaces within hockey that I feel need to be lauded. Yes, even in this giant pile of sporty doo-doo, there were some unprecedented occurrences.

The fact that Bruins players Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand came out against a front-office decision is surprising to me. Their public commentary is not something we often see in a sport that thrives on a culture of silence. And I think it is definitely offering a model of integrity for those fans paying attention.

"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."

Bergeron is leading the way that players should lead. Speaking truth to power in a complicated and messy situation.

If the hockey world wants to change the culture and if "Hockey is for Everyone" is truly an anthem we want to embrace, then offering opportunities for people to make amends and move forward must be considered.

I am skeptical of how the powers-that-be in hockey have permitted redemption arcs to be used — they can be unevenly applied depending on the player. We know that guidance needs to be stronger. Awareness and understanding needs to be more thorough.

There are places in hockey where strides are being made. There are exhibits and other collections of important histories in the game. Black Girl Hockey Club Canada is launching this weekend. There is Hockey 4 Youth, a Toronto-based organization that envelopes refugee and racialized youth into the game.

There are spaces where leadership from players across the women's game is truly making an impact in smaller communities across the country. The PWHPA showcase in Truro, N.S. brought out so many fans. And in the Premier Hockey Federation, the Montreal Force, the league's most recent expansion team, won their first game.

There is anti-racism work being done by the Hockey Diversity Alliance and organizations like The Carnegie Initiative and by academics such as the Hockey in Society. The conversations are difficult and uncomfortable, but necessary.

So there is hope and there is promise. Nothing is perfect but the intentionality for doing good within the hockey space is real. That is something that professional hockey seems to lack.

Part of me hopes that Miller truly takes the time and gets the appropriate guidance to work his way to a place that understands how harm manifests and how it can be mitigated. But like many fans out there, I don't have faith in hockey executives or decision-makers at the moment.

But I do have faith in the wider hockey community.

In the meantime, I will focus my attention and take the lead from organizations, teams and individuals binding together and using their public trust, responsibility and integrity to truly blast away toxicity in the game.