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Boston Bruins Management Let the Fans Down
Forgive this diversion from the editorial focus of Passport Stamps, but this is my platform, and I have to speak about a disturbing matter in professional sports. I’ve long been an outspoken critic of the NFL, NBA, and MLB, and it would be hypocritical of me to let the Boston Bruins skate by after doing something for which I have criticized the other sports and teams.
I believe football, basketball, and baseball value money over character. They coddle sexual predators and domestic abusers. They tolerate toxic individuals because they are talented athletes. I find it appalling what some football, basketball, and baseball players are paid in general, and am more disgusted to see ignorant, racist, homophobic, misogynist, or otherwise terrible role models get paid enormous sums of money by teams that look the other way in the name of championships and profit.
I constantly hold out professional hockey as the exception. Players make comparatively modest salaries and demonstrate a level of character, respect, and humility that is unique among the major U.S. sports. The NHL is far from perfect, but incidents of toxic player behavior are rare, and teams and the league police matters on and off the ice better than the other sports.
The COVID era has reinforced that. While the other sports have had large numbers of players selfishly unwilling to get vaccinated — and in some cases try to cheat their way around it — and have had to sit out games to the detriment of the team, hockey players quietly went about getting vaccinated for the good of their sport. There was no drama around it. They respect that they are lucky to be paid well to play a game, and there are responsibilities that come with it.
I routinely point to the Boston Bruins as the pinnacle of professional sports teams. The team culture is a model for sports and for any organization. Players know that they are privileged to play for a storied franchise and they have a team-first attitude. They have a humility and respect for the “crest” — there is an ethic that they are obligated to leave the jersey in a better place than they found it.
Hence, I am thoroughly disgusted and disappointed and have to call out the team’s management for signing Mitchell Miller. It goes against everything you hear from the players on a daily basis about the importance of character and the “Bruin way.”
This did not have to happen. It was the kind of cynical behavior I expect from the other sports where people like Kyrie Irving or Antonio Brown continue to get offers from teams despite their toxic behavior because they are dynamic players who can help teams win — if they aren’t under suspension for one of their many transgressions.
The logic tends to be, “Well, they are great players, and someone is going to sign them, so why would we pass up an opportunity to grab an elite performer?”
Because character matters. Because kids watch sports and look up to players. Because many of us are tired of seeing high-performing toxic people thrive in sports, entertainment, business, and politics.
There are plenty of talented, hard-working, and ethical people out there trying to play their way into professional sports, people who will set positive examples, people who fans can look up to. The Bruins have a deep bench right now and are not desperate for young prospects such that they needed to compromise their values.
Signing a player who has an inexcusable history of bullying and racism has no place in the Boston Bruins franchise of the 21st century. It doesn’t matter how good he is or is projected to be. There are plenty of hungry players out there. The organization has no need to serve as a halfway house to see if a kid guilty of despicable behavior can turn things around. The explanation that other teams were contemplating signing Miller is a spineless rationalization for offering a contract to someone the NHL commissioner just came out and said is currently ineligible to play in the league because of his assault conviction.
Bruins’ players have been diplomatic in expressing their disappointment and unease over the signing. It’s clear they do not believe Miller has the character to wear the jersey. It’s an unnecessary distraction for a team that is performing above expectations, in large part because of the culture of playing for each other and the crest.
I and countless fans are angry, disappointed, and conflicted about how to look at the franchise. This does not reflect on the players at all. It is management that did not live up to the team culture and the Bruin way. At a minimum, General Manager Don Sweeney needs to go, and Miller needs to be released. That won’t eliminate the bad taste that many of us are left with, but it is the necessary corrective to let the team get back to focusing on the game.
To the players on the team who were put in the position of having to address this to the media, I respect your tact in clearly communicating this was a bad move by management and not in keeping with the character and ethic required to play for the Boston Bruins. Your fans have your backs, and we will all have to figure out how to look at ownership and management going forward.