When Joni Meyer-Crothers got the news that Mitchell Miller had signed an entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins, she was furious.
Six years ago in Sylvania, Ohio, Miller and another boy rubbed a lollipop through a urinal and then tricked Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, Jon’s adopted son, into licking it. In addition to the humiliation, Meyer-Crothers, who has developmental disabilities, had to undergo tests for hepatitis and sexually transmitted diseases.
According to Joni Meyer-Crothers, that incident, which happened when they were in eighth grade, was part of a years-long pattern of bullying and racist behavior by Miller toward her son. It spanned from early elementary school to high school. He was charged with assault and agreed to community service and counseling for the lollipop incident, but she said most of the harassment went unpunished.
“It was not an early thing. It was years. We’re not hateful people,” Meyer-Crothers said when reached by phone Friday. “But we’re not going to agree with someone who’s done something and not regretted it.”
Four years later, Miller, a talented linebacker with elite catching and offensive skills, was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the fourth round. If not for his off-ice history, he likely would have gone higher. But when details of the lollipop incident became public, the Coyotes relinquished their rights to the project amid fan protests. The University of North Dakota fired him as well.
Miller sat out the entire 2020-2021 season and then returned to junior hockey. He was the USHL’s Defenseman of the Year in 2021-22, but it was unclear if any NHL teams would be willing to give him a second chance. On Friday, Miller told the Providence Journal that many teams were interested, but he chose the Bruins.
“I’m off the ice, I’m here to improve myself with community stuff and diversity training, being more in the community,” he told Mark Diver of the New England Hockey Journal. “The Bruins have offered me a lot to follow my path. I think I’ll be able to help them on and off the ice.”
Inside the Bruins’ press release announcing they would sign him, Miller said in a statement that he had apologized to Isaiah Meyer-Crothers.
While Joni Meyer-Crothers said the other boy involved in the lollipop incident tearfully apologized after it happened, Miller didn’t until last week.
When Miller was drafted, four years after the assault charge, he wrote a letter to each of the NHL teams expressing regret for what he had done, but never expressed that remorse to the victim. He still hadn’t done it last year when he told local media he planned to apologize when he signed with Tri-City:
“I wasn’t able to get in touch with them after the incident, but I think I will definitely get in touch eventually and definitely say I’m sorry for all the trouble I caused when we were 14 with their family and the child.”
Joni Meyer-Crothers was outraged at the time at the choice of the word “annoying” and doubted his sincerity. Even now she questioned whether this apology was sincere or merely fulfilling a duty required to restart his hockey career.
She said it came through social media “a week ago” and she wasn’t sure if the message came through Instagram or Snapchat, but said it disappeared after 24 hours. Both Instagram and Snapchat have features where posts are designed to disappear automatically.
“He texted our son and said he wanted him to know he was sorry for what he did and his apology is not about hockey,” she said. “My understanding from (Bruins general manager Don) Sweeney from what he said was that he told Mitchell he had to apologize in order to sign a contract.”
She later added, “If you’re forced to do it or you can’t play NHL hockey, what would most people do? Apologize.”
Sweeney said the Bruins insisted on an apology, but beyond that, he did not reach out to the Meyer-Crothers family.
“I have not spoken to the young man. I was certainly part of Mitchell having contact with the young man,” Sweeney said in a video conference call with the media. “That was part of our communication with Mitchell that he was really going to have communication with Isaiah so that he understood that would get a second chance.”
He said Miller, who worked out with the Providence Bruins on Friday, would be aware of the standards to which he will be held.
“We felt as an organization we would be strong enough to hold him to the standard that each of us as Boston Bruins and Delaware North employees would hold ourselves to,” Sweeney said. “Mitchell will stick with that.”
Miller released the following statement through the Bruins:
“When I was in the eighth grade, I made an extremely poor decision and behaved very immaturely. I bullied one of my classmates. I am very sorry for 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 contribute positively to society. As a member of the Bruins organization, I will continue to participate in community programs to educate myself and share my mistakes with others to show the negative impact these actions can have on others. To be clear, what I did when I was 14 was wrong and unacceptable. There is no place in this world to be disrespectful to others and I promise to use this opportunity to speak out against mistreatment of others.”
Meyer-Crothers’ took further issue with Sweeney and Miller by describing his treatment of her son as “a mistake” and implying that what Miller had done was a separate incident when they were both 14 years old.
“Calling it a mistake is like the biggest insult and derogatory comment anyone can make,” she said. “A mistake is when you mess something up. What you did to our son was not a mistake. If that’s the level they think about it, how sad for them.”
When Miller joined the Tri-City Storm of the USHL, Jamie Crothers, Isaiah’s father, wrote an open letter to Miller in the Grand Valley Independent in Nebraska, describing more bullying and racism. It included:
“This is something that is very difficult for us to deal with as it brings up all the hurt and disgust for what you had done to our son since first and second grade. Like when you played ‘keep the ball away from the brownie’ at recess. Isaiah came home and asked what the (N-word) was since you called him that.“
“Do you remember telling him, on one of those occasions, that his BLAKE family didn’t love him and that’s why he has a WHITE family? Do you remember spitting in his face and calling him the N word while waiting for the school bus?“
Joni Meyer-Crothers said her son suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after the events and has twice received medical attention after “suicidal issues”.
“Our son’s life is a mess,” she said. “He destroyed his life. He is not doing well at all.”