Senators Stabenow, Scott and the National Hockey League announce Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act
Willie O’Ree was the first Black player to compete in the National Hockey League
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced 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.
“As the first Black player in the National Hockey League, Willie O’Ree was a trailblazer for young people across the country. He not only was a trailblazer in the National Hockey League, but was also a leader in his community, including the Hockey Is For Everyone programs he championed in Detroit. Willie O’Ree set an example for all of us as Americans,” said Senator Stabenow.
“Willie O’Ree broke barriers and paved the way for Black Americans on and off the ice,” said Senator Scott. “His example, mentorship, and groundbreaking story epitomizes the American Dream, and I look forward to him receiving the Congressional Gold Medal.”
“As a trailblazer who has dedicated his life to creating opportunity for others, Willie O’Ree represents the very best of American values. His impact on our national culture is felt by everyone who plays hockey — who knows that the game was forever changed by his historic achievement — and everyone who celebrates determination, perseverance, and service in pursuit of equality,” said Kim Davis, NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives, and Legislative Affairs. “For more than two decades, O’Ree has travelled coast to coast as the NHL’s first-ever Diversity Ambassador to build and support hockey programs for more than 120,000 boys and girls from underrepresented backgrounds. After receiving some of the most prestigious honors in the sport — including his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame and his impending number retirement by the Boston Bruins — we are proud to see the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act recognize his enduring contributions to American society.”
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 43 games from 1958-61 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. In November 2018, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in recognition of his efforts to grow the game
Senators Stabenow and Scott first introduced the bill in 2019.