K’Andre Miller saw the word scrolling up on his laptop screen, over and over.
It was early April. The 20-year-old former first-round pick had signed his first professional contract with the Rangers a couple of weeks earlier and was taking part in an introductory gathering with Rangers fans via the Zoom videoconferencing platform.
Then someone hijacked the call and repeatedly typed the most vile racial epithet so Miller, the biracial son of a black father and white mother, would see it.
The Rangers and the NHL made strong statements after the incident and promised an investigation. Former Ranger Tony Granato, Miller’s college coach at Wisconsin, and a few of Miller’s future Rangers teammates responded with statements on social media in support of him.
Miller, a Minnesota native, didn’t say anything himself about the incident until Monday. He posted a statement on Twitter in which he addressed the unrest that has been seen around the country since a black man named George Floyd was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
“I’ve struggled for months to find the words to express my frustration and anger over the Zoom conference call incident when I was to be introduced after signing my NHL contract,’’ Miller’s statement began. He said he struggles “because I have never been fully accepted by the black community or the white community.’’
Seth Jones, a Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman, gets that.
“I completely understand what he’s saying because I think I feel the same way,’’ Jones, who has a black father and a white mother, told Newsday in a telephone interview. “Since I’m biracial, I’m not going to sit here and say I’m part of the white community or part of the black community. I’m just me.’’
Jones, 25, is a role model of sorts for Miller, a 6-4, 211-pound lefthanded defenseman who was a first-round pick in 2018. They have never met, but they play the same position, are of similar size (Jones is 6-4, 209) and play a similar two-way game. Miller has said he tries to pattern himself after Jones, a four-time NHL All-Star Game participant.
Jones said he has not felt the sting of racism in hockey the way Miller has. Miller said in his Twitter post that in youth hockey, he was “targeted because of my race’’ by some opposing coaches, players and parents. Jones, who grew up in suburban Dallas and whose father is former NBA player Popeye Jones, said he never had to deal with any of that.
“I haven’t been subjected to any racism, personally. Neither have my two brothers [Justin and Caleb, a defenseman for the Edmonton Oilers],’’ he said. “I know I’m one of the very few people that probably haven’t, and I’m obviously very fortunate for that.’’
Jarome Iginla, the former Calgary Flames forward who retired in 2017 after a 21-season NHL career that produced 625 goals and 1,300 points, also is biracial. Like Miller and Jones, he also has a black father and white mother. Like Jones, he said he never dealt with racism in the game.
But he also understands Miller’s feelings of not being accepted by either the black or white communities.
“I can understand where he’s coming from,’’ said Iginla, a lock to be a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer in 2020. “I do remember one incident, after a night out, and a black guy asked me, ‘Are you a black hockey player or a white hockey player?’ And that was a tough question. I said, ‘I’m both . . . I’m a black hockey player. But my mom’s white. I’m both.’ He didn’t like the answer.’’
In talking about the current protests going on across the country against systemic racism and police treatment of people of color, both Jones and Iginla are in favor of them (Iginla called them “powerful’’) and would prefer they stay peaceful. Both spoke about the hope for meaningful change coming as a result of the protests.
“Hopefully, we can all come together and unify as one coming out of this,’’ Jones said.
As for their hope for Miller, both men wish him nothing but the best.
“That was a terrible, terrible thing,’’ Iginla said of Miller’s Zoom experience. “That’s not what the NHL is.
“I wish him a great career, a long career, to carry the torch. And be positive. I look forward to watching him enjoy playing in New York for the Rangers, and they’ll be one of the most fun teams to have success for in a sporting environment. I wish him the best, and to have fun.’’