U.S. Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) this week announced their bipartisan legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Willie O’Ree, the first black player to compete in the National Hockey League. Known as the “Jackie Robinson of Hockey,” O’Ree played 21 years of professional hockey including for an Original Six franchise, the Boston Bruins. The Senators are leading efforts to award the Congressional Gold Medal to O’Ree to recognize his lifetime of contributions to the sport of hockey and to our nation.
“It was an honor meeting a trailblazer and welcoming Mr. O’Ree to the nation’s capital,” said Senator Scott. “Because of men like him, subsequent generations have the opportunities we do. I admire his service to those growing up in distressed communities and look forward to him receiving the Congressional Gold Medal.”
“Willie O’Ree broke barriers and blazed a trail for young people everywhere by competing as the first black player in the National Hockey League,”said Senator Stabenow. “His achievements in the League and his service to the community, including the Hockey Is For Everyone programs he championed in Detroit, set an example for all of us as Americans.”
“From his small town roots to his 2018 induction in the most prestigious Hall of Fame in sports, Willie O’Ree continues to shape American culture and social fabric through hockey,” said Kim Davis, NHL Executive Vice President, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs. “O’Ree is a trailblazer who paved the way for players of diverse ethnic backgrounds who have succeeded him in the subsequent decades. And since being named Diversity Ambassador more than 20 years ago, he has helped establish 39 local grassroots hockey programs and inspired more than 120,000 boys and girls to play and learn from the game. His dedication to hockey continues to inspire past, present and future generations to pursue their dreams. We couldn’t be more proud to have a member of our hockey family be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.”
A multi-sport athlete, O’Ree originally intended to play professional baseball. After he experienced segregation first-hand during a tryout in the Jim Crow era, he turned to professional hockey. Despite being blind in one eye from an injury he suffered in 1956, he made his NHL debut in 1958 playing for the Boston Bruins. O’Ree would go on to play two seasons in the NHL and more than 20 seasons of professional hockey.
In 1998, O’Ree was named the National Hockey League’s first-ever Diversity Ambassador. In that role, O’Ree helped develop the Hockey is for Everyone youth organizations, which offer minority and underserved children the opportunity to play hockey, build character, and develop important life skills. Hockey is for Everyone programs have served more than 120,000 boys and girls at over 30 nonprofits across North America.