Hockey Diversity Alliance calls on NHL, Coyotes to sign anti-racism pledge

An End Racism message is displayed before the start of the first period NHL Stanley Cup Eastern Conference playoff hockey action as Boston Bruins play Tampa Bay Lightning in Toronto, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. (Frank Gunn/CP)

The Hockey Diversity Alliance has called on the NHL and Arizona Coyotes to sign the HDA's pledge, an eight-item list of anti-racism commitments, following the Coyotes' decision to draft Mitchell Miller, who was charged with assault and violating the Ohio Safe Schools Act in February of 2016. Mitchell and another Toledo-area student admitted to bullying Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, a classmate who is Black and has a learning disability.

The HDA, a group founded by former hockey players whose stated goal is to eradicate systemic racism and intolerance in hockey, issued the statement Wednesday on Twitter, urging the league and team to act.

"The Coyotes' drafting of Mitchell Miller -- who was convicted of bullying a developmentally disabled, Black classmate, and according to the victim's family has not personally apologized -- shows that 'zero tolerance' of racism can't be taken for granted in the NHL," the statement reads. "The NHL and Coyotes should sign the HDA Pledge and start practicing what they preach."

A police report obtained by the Arizona Republic, and published on Oct. 27, stated that Miller and the other student forced Meyer-Crothers to eat candy that had been in a urinal. It goes on to say that the two teens then punched and pushed the boy, and Miller lied to school officials about his involvement. Miller, who was 14 at the time of the incident, and the other teen were "sentenced to 25 hours of community service and were ordered to write an apology through the court system to Meyer-Crothers, participate in counselling and pay court costs," the Republic reported.

The Coyotes drafted Miller, now 18, in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL Draft. In a statement provided to the Republic, the team said it was aware of Miller's conviction before selecting him.

"Given our priorities on diversity and inclusion, we believe that we are in the best position to guide Mitchell into becoming a leader for this cause and preventing bullying and racism now and in the future," the statement read in part. "When we first learned of Mitchell’s story, it would have been easy for us to dismiss him — many teams did. Instead, we felt it was our 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."

Meyer-Crothers and his mother spoke to the Republic and said the Coyotes drafting Miller is "part of the problem."

"Put yourself in our position. Would you be okay with it?" Joni Meyer-Crothers, Isaiah's mother, said. "It's a joke that a sports team, especially with all the stuff going on with Black Lives Matter, would do this."

Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, also now 18, told the Republic that Miller had taunted him for years growing up, calling him names like "brownie" and the "N-word" while repeatedly hitting him. When he saw the news that Miller had been drafted by the Coyotes, he said it "hurt my heart."

The University of North Dakota, where Miller now plays, has since acknowledged that they knew about the assault charge. USA Hockey and the USHL’s Tri-City Storm, where Miller played last season, also stated they looked into his background.

The HDA's call to action pointed to Item 6 on its pledge, specifically, as essential to consider in this situation:

"We will not support, partner with or accept support from any organization that has engaged in, promoted or failed to appropriately respond to racist conduct in their organization of any kind (including, without limitation, the proliferation of hate speech, discrimination in the provision of goods, services and facilities and other areas such as employment)."

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