We write this piece on the eve of the Fighting Hawks Men’s Hockey Team making their debut in the NCHC Pod tomorrow afternoon against the RedHawks of Miami of Ohio. This piece is not about that.
This piece is not about Jasper Weatherby, or Jacob Bernard-Docker, both two incredibly talented student athletes, and both of whom are allies, as we wrote about in Jasper’s case, a bit ago. Both student-athletes plan to kneel tomorrow before the Fighting Hawks open their season, in support of the many black lives that have been lost far too soon at the hands of law enforcement, including George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, among far too many others. We hope this is the beginning of true, authentic, student-athlete lead protests on this campus to draw attention to a number of issues most fans of this team have a literal privilege of not having to confront on a day to day basis.
It is about the lack of response from the athletic department following the removal from the team of former student athlete Mitchell Miller for his horrific crimes and racism displayed towards Isaiah Meyer-Corothers, an African American classmate of his in an Ohio high school. While being incredibly reactionary as an institution, President Andrew Armacost, to his credit, stepped up and did the right thing in absence of leadership from the staff of the team by removing Miller from the team. Being a student-athlete anywhere, and especially at the Division One level is an earned privilege, and taking part in crimes involving saying racist slurs to, and physically bullying a classmate of yours on multiple occasions with developmental disabilities should rightly bar one from ever having that privilege.
Other than the dismissal from the team, which was done at Armacost’s behest, what has the Athletic Department done to take real, verifiable, and public steps to ensure this never happens again, and that no student athlete with anything close to the level of Miller’s crimes is even recruited? They have done nothing in the public eye to engender any bit of conference from anyone in that regard and as we sit here on December 1, 2020, we felt it needed to bring our questions into the public eye for two reasons.
First, UND has responded to a case brought forward by one of its own student athletes. After Jaxson Turner rightly noted his displeasure at using now former student athletes who participated in a racist video in a promotion Athletic Director Bill Chaves said “I support the decision that was made today with UND volleyball. I have listened and will continue to listen to our student-athletes, faculty, staff and community as a whole and I am dedicated to working together to foster a safe, welcoming space for everyone. 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.” That said, the two players only left after Turner brought this up. This raises further concerns for the transparency or lack thereof in this department about racist things that happen
To us, based on that statement uttered this summer, and through all of the activism the department is taking in other areas like encouraging its student athletes to vote, and do a lot of other great things in the community, doing things to actively combat racism both on the ice and off it would be a good start. Answering these questions should be the bare minimum for this Athletic Department as it fails to fully seperate its men’s hockey team of the present and future from its past association with a nickname ruled hostile and offensive by the NCAA, and one that took them nearly a decade to change. While that descision to change was not entirely in this department’s hands, their continued willingness to not be proactive about using the Fighting Hawks image in their home rink most certainly is. Other coaches in other sports have shown a strong willingness to move forward and have embraced the change with great gusto. Men’s Hockey as a program has not. The multiple regionals the Fighting Hawks have hosted have had a Fighting Hawk closer to the ice than the home rink of the Fighting Hawks, Ralph Engelstad Arena. This lack of willingness to adress an issue head on and let it fester is not endemic to the nickname.
Below are the questions we sent that never got a response from Head Coach Brad Berry, and as we have been told the department will have no further comment on this issue, feel needed to bring public using our forum. Also, do not hesitate to ask version of these questions of every single team Miller played on after these crimes started, and every league which he was in. The lack of transparency regarding what anyone in the hockey world knew about Miller and when they knew it has been to us, at a minimum quite appalling.
Here are those questions meant for Coach Berry, keep in mind these were sent right after his dismissal, thus the ” past week” phrasing.
1. When did you first learn of Miller’s racist bullying towards Isaiah in the course of recruiting Miller?
2. Did you learn of this before offering him a scholarship?
3. What changed in the past week to dismiss him from the team?
4. Did any professional teams ask you for input on Mitchell during the draft process and if so did you provide any?
5. What fundamental changes will the program put in place to prevent recruiting/having players come to campus who commit these atrocities?
6. Why did it take a story after Miller was drafted to begin this process that lead us to his dismissal from the team?
We write all of this because we see the good going on in this Athletic Department. We see their advocacy with Brenda Tracy every year to help work to end sexual assault in all forms. The student athletes across all sports are routinely near the top of the nation in hours of service. So many people in this department and on this team are doing great work, and we believe that a unified statement from its coaches of their recruiting principles, and documented cases where future Mitchell Millers are turned away, along with transparency in discipline and a clear policy on working to end racism on this campus while punishing documented cases amongst its student-athletes, administrators, contractors, and anyone who works with the athletic department in any form or fashion, while also re-emphasizing its zero tolerance policy for racism amongst fans is a start, but just that. Going forward, we want to continue to see this Athletic Department take steps to right wrongs of its past, especially in the highlighted area of its most popular program, Men’s Hockey.