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Editor’s note: When representatives for Mitchell Miller reached out to see if I was interested in interviewing Miller, I made it clear that there would be conditions attached to that interview, and only after that interview would I decide whether it warranted a story.
Miller admitted to bullying Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, an African American with developmental disabilities, when the two were eighth-grade classmates at McCord Junior High School in Sylvania, Ohio. The disturbing details of that incident were first reported by the Toledo Blade in April 2016, later recounted in this space on the day after the draft, and by azcentral.com and The Athletic about three weeks after the Coyotes selected him in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL Draft.
I told Miller that he would have to answer a series of difficult questions in order for the process to proceed -- both because his credibility and contrition were still in doubt, and because many would question whether he deserved a forum. I asked that no one else be on the line to coach him during the interview. And I stated that I would be reaching out to the victim’s family to let them know that a story might be forthcoming. Miller agreed to everything. Here is the story.
Mitchell Miller knows that a large percentage of people who read this story don’t want to hear what he has to say. They don’t believe that he deserves a platform because of what he did to Isaiah Meyer-Crothers five years ago. They don’t believe that he has done enough to atone for that behavior.
Miller knows that anything he says will be viewed as nothing more than an attempt to resurrect his hockey career, which was put on ice when the Coyotes renounced his draft rights on Oct. 29, and the University of North Dakota kicked him off of its team a day later.
He won’t argue with any of those opinions.
“I totally understand why people are mad at me,” Miller said in his first public comments since the 2020 NHL Draft in early October. “It obviously was wrong, what I did, and I said what I said to Isaiah. I’ll own up to everything I did. I’m not going to try to defend myself. I was definitely wrong. I don’t want it to define my life or my hockey career, but I take all ownership of what I did.
“This isn’t about saving my career. Obviously, I want to play hockey. It’s my dream, but I want to let everyone know that I made a mistake and how sincere and sorry I am that I affected their family and their lives. I got dropped by Arizona and North Dakota, but it’s not about saving my career. It’s letting people know what I did was wrong. Again, I take all ownership of what I did and I’m not going to defend myself on all of that stuff. I’ve just got to take it, but I have matured since eighth grade.”
The central question surrounding Miller is this: Is he a bad kid whose reprehensible behavior got him caught, or is he a kid who learned a really hard lesson when he was 14; one that will make him a better person? Nobody can answer that question better than Miller. If he wants to find a path forward, it’s up to him to prove he is not that kid from five years ago.
He said he knows what he needs to do to prove it to a chorus of doubters.
“At this point, I think the debt-to-society part is like 10 times more important than my hockey career,” he said. “Hockey would be a reward if I could ever have a second chance to have that back in my life, but I want to give back to the community.”
Miller believes that he has taken several steps toward repaying his debt, beginning with when he apologized to Meyer-Crothers in the immediate aftermath of the incident. The apology was court-mandated, but it was a personal apology, and public records of Miller’s expulsion hearing and recommendation, obtained by azcoyotesinsider.com, show that the apology was read both to Meyer-Crothers, and to school officials and the school board. The apology was also sent to the Meyer-Crothers family.
Joni Meyer-Crothers, Isaiah’s mother, said no letter was ever read to Isaiah and that she did not receive the apology.
The court ruling prohibited Miller from having any further contact with Meyer-Crothers, and he said he abided by that ruling. More recently, when the new reports surfaced, he said he tried to add Isaiah as a friend on Snapchat, but “but I doubt he wants to add me back.
“I obviously don’t know what he’s thinking in his head but I think it might be embarrassing for him. Maybe he is feeling down. Maybe he didn’t feel appreciated by his friends that were supposed to be there for him.”
Joni Meyer-Crothers said that her son is no longer conducting interviews, but she offered some thoughts when discussing his current state of mind.
“How does someone who has been bullied for years heal?” she wrote in an email. “He is left with lifetime scars and he struggles with healing because so many things that happen in daily life trigger those helpless feelings and puts him back at that hurt.
“Also, some of the people asked why Isaiah was trying to ruin Mitchell’s life, which is sad because Mitchell caused this himself. He did the act, not Isaiah. How about people hold the bully accountable and not the person who was bullied? How about we figure out how to help the people that are bullied? How about we try to help them heal? Whenever we minimize what they went through we are hurting them again. This is something that has harmed Isaiah terribly and we continue with counseling to try to help him heal.”
If he were to speak to Isaiah Meyer-Crothers again, here is what Miller said he would like to say.
“I would definitely apologize again; just tell him how sincere I am and how sorry I am that it affected his life,” he said. “If I could talk to him again I think we could be friends again. I wasn't allowed to talk to him, so I haven’t had the chance to apologize to him face-to-face, but I would like to catch up with him. We were good friends, so I’d like to see how he’s doing and what he’s been doing since eighth grade.
“I kind of lost everything because of this, but it obviously affected their family way more. It affected them the most, but from my side, I have realized how much I lost, and it made me think about my life. I started seeing a counselor right after it all happened, and I still see a counselor when I go back home to figure out how to keep going and follow a dream. It goes both ways, but I think it helped me become a better person and become more mature.”
When Miller’s parents, John and Shelli Miller, found out about the incident that resulted in Miller’s expulsion from school, Shelli Miller said they were stunned, both by its physical nature and the language they later learned that he had used, including the N-word.
“I don’t know how it got that far. It’s just crazy to me,” Shelli Miller said. “I don’t think he really understood how powerful that word was until he sat with a cultural diversity trainer and it was explained it to him.”
Multiple sources within the district said they believe that Miller got the message loud and clear and understood the gravity of his actions.
“Sitting with Mitchell, we told him, ‘Listen, this is not behavior that we will condone in our household, and you need to be a good person,’” Shelli Miller said. “These boys were always playing around, but he was in trouble for a very long time after we found out everything. My husband and I are pretty strict, but he also did everything above and beyond what was asked of him after the fact, so I think something really good is going to come out of this for him.”
Since the incident for which Miller and another teenager were charged with assault and violating the Ohio Safe Schools Act in February 2016, he completed his court-mandated 25 hours of community service which included working with the physically disabled (including the Special Olympics) and children of multiple ethnicities.
He has also worked with a pair of counselors during the past five years.
When he was in Iowa playing for Cedar Rapids of the USHL, his coach, Mark Carlson said Miller was part of the team’s community outreach program, which included feeding the homeless, working with the elderly and taking part in a program that was germane to Miller’s earlier incident.
“Mitchell was a good team member when he was here,” Carlson said. “We do a lot of community service as part of our player development program. Mitchell was very involved in all aspects of our community service. There were certainly guys that did as much, but he was right there with those guys. He did a lot of community service. The team did take part in an anti-bullying program and Mitchell was a part of that.”
While Miller was at the University of North Dakota, he said he was working with teammate Jasper Weatherby in hopes of becoming a part of the school’s diversity training. Weatherby is a member of North Dakota's Student-Athlete Inclusion and Diversity Group, and he is the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's player representative for college hockey's social issues task force.
Most recently, Miller has been focusing on his school work while still visiting his old coach in Tri-City (USHL), Anthony Noreen, with whom he skates on occasion. COVID has made it more challenging for him to engage in community service, but he said he hopes to continue the work.
Miller said he was prepared for a second wave of stories after he was drafted, but only to a point. He had sent a letter to every NHL team explaining the incident (azcoyotesinsider.com also obtained that letter) and what he had done in its aftermath.
“North Dakota told me they wouldn't drop me no matter what, but obviously the school has to protect itself, and the NHL teams and organizations have to protect themselves,” Miller said. “I can’t get mad about that stuff. Once I got drafted in Arizona I was prepared for something to happen. We talked about it in eighth grade, that it was going to come back up eventually. It was just a dagger when it came out. It is obviously everyone’s dream to get drafted, so I guess I wasn't really prepared for all of what happened.”
Miller faces a difficult road back to hockey. Before the NHL Draft, Elite Prospects reached out to several NHL sources and found that numerous teams had left Miller off their draft boards. Here is an excerpt from a piece written by J.D. Burke, the site’s editor, explaining why Miller was excluded: “There is a commonly held view among everyone within this segment of the league that Miller’s camp hasn’t been forthright in addressing their off-the-ice concerns, and when they have, that Miller has not interviewed well.”
In an article in The Athletic, published after the Coyotes and North Dakota cut ties with Miller, representatives from college hockey, the OHL and the USHL also foresaw obstacles on Miller’s path back to hockey.
Miller said that he embraced the idea of becoming a diversity spokesperson for the Coyotes when they first mentioned the idea after drafting him. He still hopes to play a similar role somewhere.
“I hope to share my story with others of what happened to me and Isaiah, and I hope we can sit face to face and chat, maybe later in life,” he said. “From a hockey standpoint, I think I deserve a second chance to play again and I have learned from my mistakes, but it will definitely be a tough road. Even after eighth grade, it was tough going from there to play for different teams and explaining what I did and what I have learned.
“They gave me second chances, all the way to college. I came to work every day for school and practice, and I tried to be a better person. I guess I got lucky after eighth grade to get those chances, but it has obviously gone back downhill from there. Hopefully, I do get another opportunity to make my way back up and make a positive story out of this.”
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