NHL’s Coyotes reverse course, cut ties with draft pick who bullied Black schoolmate

Canada

A diversity advocacy group is calling on the Arizona Coyotes and the National Hockey League to sign a pledge to combat racism in the sport after the team knowingly drafted a prospect convicted of bullying a Black schoolmate.

The Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA), led by San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane and ex-NHL player Akim Aliu, posted a message to social media on Wednesday night challenging the Coyotes and the league to “start practising what they preach.”

Arizona was aware of Mitchell Millers’s history when they selected the defenceman in the fourth round of the NHL entry draft on Oct. 7. Miller, 18, had sent a letter to each team prior to the draft, in which he acknowledged his conviction in 2016 when he was 14 and apologized for his actions, according to Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong.

The Coyotes stated earlier this week that they would work with Miller to educate him on matters of diversity and inclusion.

“Mitchell made a huge mistake, but we are providing him with a second chance to prove himself,” Armstrong said. “We hope that he uses his platform moving forward to raise awareness about bullying and to discourage this type of behaviour.” 

Formed in June, the HDA had hoped the NHL would partner in its mission to “eradicate systemic racism and intolerance in hockey.”

However, the group decided to part ways with the NHL in early October, asserting the league was not committed to addressing racial inequality. 

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Jamie Strashin discusses HDA split from NHL:

The Hockey Diversity Alliance has announced it will separate from the NHL after months of negotiations. The initiative led by Black NHL players said it didn’t see enough action from the league, only performative public relations efforts. 2:03

The HDA pointed to Item No. 6 of its pledge on Wednesday which says in part: “We will not support, partner with or accept support from any organization that has engaged in, promoted or failed to appropriately respond to racist conduct in their organization of any kind.”

In September, the NHL released a set of initiatives, including mandatory training for players, aimed at fighting racial inequality and to promote inclusion.

But the HDA said it felt a lack of commitment from the NHL in putting the plan in place. 

“We have waited many months for a response to the common sense HDA pledge we proposed, and it is clear that the NHL is not prepared to make any measurable commitments to end systemic racism in hockey,” the HDA said in the statement.

Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said in a statement his team is committed to diversity and inclusion and defended the decision to draft Miller. 

“Our fundamental mission is to ensure a safe environment — whether in schools, in our community, in hockey rinks, or in the workplace — to be free of bullying and racism,” Gutierrez said. 

“When we first learned of Mitchell’s story, it would have been easy for us to dismiss him — many teams did. Instead, we felt it was our responsibility to be a part of the solution in a real way — not just saying and doing the right things ourselves but ensuring that others are too.”

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