It’s a story which nobody in the hockey world wants to talk about, probably because it exposes the ugly side of elite sport.
Last month, Mitchell Miller, a star American defenceman, was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the fourth round, the 111th pick overall.
The NHL team wanted to give Miller a chance at redemption because four years earlier — when he was 14 — he and his best friend were charged and convicted of assaulting a black classmate with disabilities. (In the States, juvenile court is public record, unlike Canada where names of juvenile offenders can not be published.)
Miller and his buddy regularly addressed the boy by the “N” word, once forcing him to suck on a urine-soaked lollipop.
Miller completed all of his court-mandated punishments, but his victim never received a face-to-face apology. He’s haunted to this day. The other boy involved in the bullying did offer an in-person apology, even breaking down in tears.
Since this has been revealed, the Coyotes have reneged on his pick and it also cost him a scholarship to the University of North Dakota.
Miller’s hockey career is basically over.
One can ask if he should be punished to this extent — and for life — for something that happened when he was only 14.
Short answer: yes.
Miller was playing sport at an elite level, representing his country. He had access to top-caliber coaching. Players at this level, even at a young age, are taught about what’s acceptable on and off the ice.
Some 14-year-olds at Miller’s level even have their own agents.
But elite athletes — even when they’re still kids — attract sycophants and hangers-on. When you’re a star athlete, by the time you’re 10, you’re surrounded by adults who constantly tell you how great you area.
In some ways, Miller was just a victim of the system. But, it’s no excuse. The vast majority of jock kids — in whatever the sport — are superb individuals.
Any way you look at it, professional sports are entertainment. They are not a charity. Pro sports is a billion dollar industry with tons of spinoff. They survive on the popularity of their players.
Playing in the NHL, or any other major sporting league, is a priviledge. For every Mitchell Miller, there’s another player out there just as good. The only difference is that player will have a better character.