In June, when reports surfaced that two UND volleyball players had been shown in a video that included a racial slur, UND Athletics Director Bill Chaves said he is “dedicated to working together to foster a safe, welcoming space for everyone.”
“I have listened and will continue to listen to our student-athletes, faculty, staff and community as a whole ...” Chaves said in a statement after the team and the two players parted ways. “We value a diverse and inclusive environment and will strive to continually improve in this area through persistent work on the culture of our department.”
Considering that response, the decision to rescind a spot on the UND hockey team for freshman Mitchell Miller should have been easy. Miller has a history of assault, bullying and racism, associated with an incident in 2016, when he was in junior high school in Ohio. It became a national story after the victim’s mother wrote a letter to the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, detailing the effects Miller had on her son. The Coyotes, who used a fourth-round pick to select Miller in the draft, then chose to renounce their draft rights to the young defenseman.
What remained then was whether Miller would continue to be a member of the UND hockey program. The suspense in recent days has been palpable.
Friday, UND President Andrew Armacost did the right thing, declaring Miller will not play hockey for the Fighting Hawks.
“We expect our students to live by our values in the classroom, in the community and when representing the university on the field of play,” Armacost wrote in a statement. He said that after discussions with Miller, his family, Chaves and coach Brad Berry, he “decided that the best course of action for Mitchell and the university is that he no longer be a member of the UND men’s hockey program.”
As we see it, there was no other course to take. Armacost, who said the final decision was his to make, chose decency, inclusion and diversity over potential wins on the ice.
And considering the precedent set in June with the comments regarding the incident associated with the two volleyball players, it would have been a disaster to keep Miller on the UND hockey roster.
For his entire time at UND, this story would not have gone away, and the reputation of the program – and UND as whole – was at stake.
UND athletics must be an example of what is right in college athletics. Fighting Hawks sports programs must exemplify hard work, dedication and decency above all else. Running the programs right – and that includes a dedication to grades as well as societal standards – should have higher priority than wins.
Miller was barely a teenager when this incident occurred, but if the reported details are accurate, youth is no excuse. Perhaps he has changed for the better, yet consequences must exist.
When the Coyotes renounced his rights, team CEO Xavier Gutierrez said the team does not condone the behavior but embraces this “as a teachable moment.”
It is indeed – for all young people.
And Friday, UND provided a teachable moment for college sports programs everywhere.