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Bruins sign Mitchell Miller, who admitted to bullying, racial abuse of a developmentally disabled peer

Mitchell Miller was named the USHL’s Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year after the 2021-22 season.Eldon Holmes/Tri-City Storm

As the hockey world praised the Bruins’ on-ice performance during their franchise-best start, the team grabbed hold of the spotlight Friday for an entirely different reason.

The Bruins signed defenseman Mitchell Miller, a former Arizona draft pick who was dropped by that franchise because of his past abuse of a junior high classmate, to an entry-level contract.

Miller, who signed for three years, reported to AHL Providence for conditioning.

Miller, 20, was a fourth-round draft pick (111th overall) of the Coyotes in 2020 whose draft rights and enrollment at the University of North Dakota were renounced by those both organizations after more information about his actions came to light.

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A report by the Arizona Republic detailed Miller’s admitted assault, bullying, and racial abuse of a Black developmentally disabled classmate in eighth grade in Sylvania, Ohio. Miller reportedly was charged with a violation of the Ohio Safe Schools Act in February 2016 after he and another student admitted to bullying fellow student Isaiah Meyer-Crothers.

Part of that bullying included wiping a candy push pop in a urinal and tricking Meyer-Crothers into consuming it. The victim reportedly had tests for hepatitis, STDs, and HIV, which came back negative.

After Miller was drafted in 2020, Meyer-Crothers told the Arizona Republic that Miller had taunted him for years growing up and called him names like “brownie” and used the N-word while physically abusing him. He said it “hurt my heart” when he saw the news that Miller had been drafted.

“When I was in eighth grade, I made an extremely poor decision and acted very immaturely,” Miller said in a statement released by the Bruins. “I bullied one of my classmates. I deeply regret the incident and have apologized to the individual.

“Since the incident, I have come to better understand the far-reaching consequences of my actions that I failed to recognize and understand nearly seven years ago. I strive to be a better person and positively contribute to society.”

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Miller’s statement said he will “continue to participate in community programs to both educate myself and share my mistakes with others to show what a negative impact those actions can have on others.”

His statement went on to reiterate that his actions were “wrong and unacceptable. There is no place in this world for being disrespectful to others and I pledge to use this opportunity to speak out against mistreating others.”

In a Zoom call Friday afternoon, general manager Don Sweeney said the Bruins could have taken a much easier path by walking away from Miller, whom he described as a “tremendous offensive player” who has pro-quality skills.

He described the move as an uncomfortable gamble.

“He has to earn the opportunity to play in the NHL as a player,” Sweeney said. “I think more importantly, has to earn the respect of teammates, and really everywhere in society, to garner a second chance.”

Miller left hockey for a year, and last season returned to his junior team, the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He won both the league’s Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year awards, as voted by its general managers. In 60 games, Mitchell put up 39 goals and 44 assists for 83 points.

The Bruins are signing Miller in part because other teams felt they could do the same. Speaking in Providence, Miller said “a couple” teams were interested. He said the Bruins offered him the best “resources,” after he sat down with management and “opened up about what I did and want to do moving forward.”

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“I think it’s a huge opportunity for me and the Bruins,” Miller said. “Personally, I’m here to better myself off the ice with community stuff, diversity training, being in the community more. The Bruins have offered me a lot to [help] me follow my path. I think I’ll be able to help them on and off the ice.”

Sweeney said the Bruins spent six months, “almost a year now” of background investigation into Miller. They spent time with Miller and his family.

Sweeney would not give specifics on the community programs Miller would be involved with. He said Bruins community relations director Kerry Collins has connected Miller with professionals in the field over the last two weeks.

Sweeney said the Bruins did not have Miller on their draft list.

“We did not have enough information,” Sweeney said. “Our scouts and people evaluated him as a hockey player, knew about the incidents, but just didn’t feel comfortable with the knowledge that we have today and really where Mitchell has come since those days.”

Today, he said, “We have a much better understanding and feel we’re in a position that where doors are slamming, maybe we would allow one to open up. We felt as an organization we’d be strong enough to do that.”

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Sweeney called it a “personal and professional struggle” to sort out whether he wanted to align with Miller. He also noted it was not solely his decision. He acknowledged that if Miller had bullied his children, he wouldn’t be sure he could forgive him — but he would applaud someone for extending a hand.

Asked if he was concerned if the Bruins’ character-first reputation would take a hit, Sweeney said he was.

“This has been a struggle as to what is right and what is wrong,” he said. “I can’t categorically tell you this is the absolute right decision. This is an opportunity that we’re providing for a young man who’s going to work to continue to earn trust and respect.”



Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him @mattyports.