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.  

RELATED: Tennessee State University Considering Ice Hockey Programs 

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.  

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.  

RELATED: Kelsey Koelzer Becomes First Black Ice Hockey Coach in NCAA History 

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.  

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