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Opinion: Hockey Hasn't Learned a Thing – Maybe it Never Will

Mike Stephens says by signing Mitchell Miller, the Boston Bruins have shown once again that hockey has learned nothing from the events of the past three years.
Boston Bruins

Six years. 

It took Mitchell Miller six years to apologize to Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, the boy he racially, physically, and emotionally abused for years on end, beginning during their time in the second grade. Six years to apologize for hurling racial slurs at Meyer-Crothers, who is Black and suffers from a developmental disability, while telling him to "go pick cotton." Six years to apologize for smearing a candy push-pop on the inside of a public urinal and then forcing Meyer-Crothers to lick it while "nearly falling over in laughter" as he did so. Six years to apologize for his futile attempt to cover his actions up by lying to school administrators during their investigation, only to have security footage corroborate Meyer-Crothers' and other students' testimony. 

And when that apology finally came, six years after Miller was convicted of his crimes in an Ohio juvenile court, Miller reportedly didn't even deliver it in person. 

It came via Instagram. 

That is who the Boston Bruins chose to sign to a three-year entry-level contract on Friday. Not a young man who "made a poor decision" in eighth grade and "acted very immaturely," as Miller described his own actions in a constructed statement released by the team. No, the Bruins wilfully welcomed into their organization a person who spent the majority of his adolescent life mercilessly tormenting a developmentally disabled child purely for the fun of it, emotionally manipulating him into believing they were friends, and then using that trust to shame, abuse, and harm him in what amounted to, according to Meyer-Crothers' adopted mother, "years of torture." 

This is not subject to debate. These are facts -- the kind which have been upheld in a court of law. 

Miller's actions against Meyer-Crothers do not represent a case of youthful tomfoolery gone awry. They were calculated in their execution, rooted in the pursuit of deriving pleasure from the misfortune of a defenseless party. That Miller continues to downplay these crimes and attempt to sweep them under the rug -- his Bruins-sanctioned statement refers only to a singular incident for which he apologizes -- only further demonstrates his lack of remorse. 

If it weren't a required step on his path to a professional hockey career, would Miller have ever apologized at all? No one can say for sure. But the evidence paints a clear picture. 

One can only fruitlessly wonder if hockey has learned a single thing from its cavalcade of recent transgressions. Perhaps it was never capable of doing so in the first place. 

This sport has undergone a seismic reckoning over the past three years, a period during which the skeletons that were buried deep underground by the powers that be in order to shield high-profile figures from the consequences they deserve have been brought to light. 

Each and every one of those atrocities -- be it the abuse Kyle Beach endured at the hands of Chicago Blackhawks employee Brad Aldrich in 2010 that was ultimately enabled and silenced by the team's senior leadership trust, or the alleged gang rapes committed by members of the 2018 and 2003 Canadian world juniors hockey teams that were promptly swept under the rug by Hockey Canada, or the decision to blackball Akim Aliu from countless professional hockey circles in order to protect coach Bill Peters, who had directed racial slurs at Aliu during their time with the AHL's Rockford Ice Hogs -- is rooted in the pursuit of on-ice success at any and all costs.

That's why the Bruins signed Mitchell Miller today. Not because he'd be a positive addition to their organizational culture or because they want to help him further understand the gravity of his actions. No, the Bruins signed Miller because they think he will help them win hockey games. They value the potential to increase their odds at a championship over the emotional and physical well-being of a person and his entire family. 

That's the decision they've made today. And it's the cross they'll be forced to bear for the remainder of their existence.

It's as simple as that, really. The ink on Miller's newly-issued contract pulls back the curtain on a terrible truth that has been lurking all along: These people won't learn. 

They're incapable of it, frankly. And to expect them to change from here on out would be both irresponsible and naive. 

The worst part is, they're not even hiding it anymore. 

"I can't categorically tell you this was the right decision," admitted Bruins GM Don Sweeney to reporters on Friday afternoon before further stating that he's unsure whether he'd be able to forgive Miller for his actions if they were committed against his own child. 

Well, luckily for Don, they weren't. Miller didn't torture Sweeney's child -- or anyone even tangentially associated with his social circle. He tortured Isaiah Meyer-Crothers. And now, Miller has an NHL contract that boasts the maximum term and average annual salary allowed to a player his age. 

This is not a matter of debating the merit of second chances. It's about deciphering who gets to determine when that second chance is earned. 

The only party with the power to declare Miller worthy of another crack at the privileges he's been afforded is Isaiah Meyer-Crothers and his family. The victims continue to deal with the aftermath of Miller's abuse while he skates on to professional glory. And by declining to so much as reach out to that family during their vetting process of Miller, the Bruins categorically lack the power to grant him one. 

But they did so anyway. Because this sport refuses to learn a single thing. 

Maybe they will one day. Maybe this is the straw that mercifully breaks this damn camel's back. It's not impossible. 

Just don't hold your breath. 


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