National Hockey League’s First Black Player Set to Receive Congressional Gold Medal
By: Alyssa Wilson
Willie O’Ree, the first Black player for the National Hockey League, will be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan and Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina introduced the legislation in February, The Hill reported. Now that it has been approved by the Senate, it heads to the House for consideration.
From the hockey arena to serving young athletes in his community, Willie O’Ree’s legacy has inspired generations.
I urge my colleagues in the House to pass the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act in recognition of NHL legend Willie O’Ree’s significant contributions. pic.twitter.com/R0UAQxMb8d
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) July 27, 2021
Stabenow and Scott introduced the bill to honor O’Ree and his contributions to the sports world. The 85-year-old, known to some as the “Jackie Robinson of hockey,” competed for more than two decades for the Boston Bruins.
On this day in 1958, Willie O’Ree became the first Black player to compete in a National Hockey League game.
63 years later, he continues to make a profound impact on the sport of hockey and everyone who loves our game. pic.twitter.com/ApmHUI5UHZ
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 18, 2021
When he joined the league in 1958, he was blind in one eye due to a previous injury. Despite this, he competed in more than 40 games in the league until 1961.
He became the National Hockey League’s first diversity ambassador in 1998. Since then, he has devoted his time to make sure the sport is accessible to all with his Hockey is for Everyone program. Since its inception, the program has supported dozens of organizations that work to help children from minority and underserved communities, including giving them a chance to play hockey.
“Willie O’Ree has been committed to hockey for decades and his impressive list of accolades and achievements is reflective of his dedication to inspire young people across America,” Kim Davis, an NHL senior executive, said.
The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded to people or groups for their distinguished achievements and contributions. O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, largely for his accomplishments off the ice where he helped create a new generation of both hockey players and fans, NHL.com reported.
The 2019 documentary Willie tells the story of his life, his historic feat as the league’s first Black player, and his contributions to making hockey more inclusive for Black people.