NHL player Willie O'Ree inspired Black children to play hockey when there was no one else. 

O'Ree was honored last week in a lavish ceremony for players who made an impact on and off the ice, ESPN reports. Racism plagued O'Ree's career, but his work as an ambassador championing diversity gained him induction in the builder category of the Hall of Fame.

For 24 years, the now 83-year-old weaved in and out of the major leagues. O'Ree first stepped on the ice for the Boston Bruins on January 18, 1958, at 19 years old.

At the time, he didn't realize he shared something with the great Jackie Robinson, whom he'd meet twice. Despite being blind in his left eye, he was also a baseball player who decided to stick with hockey.  

“I heard that N-word so many times that I just let it go in one ear and out the other,” O’Ree recalled. “I never fought because of racial slurs or remarks. I fought because guys speared me, butt-ended me, crosschecked me and things of that nature. Otherwise, I would have spent every game in the penalty box.”

The New York Times notes O'Ree made history 11 years after Robinson broke color barriers in baseball. O'Ree, a native of Fredericton, New Brunswick, only played two games in 1958.

Then, two years later, he played 43 games scoring 16 points. 

"I think it is more important now than it ever was," he said after receiving his Hall of Fame ring. "I think a lot of kids are realizing now that boys and girls can make a difference. It is entirely up to them."

"There is no substitute for hard work; you only get out of it what you put into it," he added. 

The 1960-61 season was his only true season in the majors. He made a career playing in the minor leagues before retiring in 1979 at 43. 

Since then, he has led the charge to change the face of the NHL. Reuters reports he has served as NHL's Diversity Ambassador for the "Hockey is for Everyone' initiative. His work inspired dozens of Black players to hit the ice. In the 2016-2017 season alone, 30 Black players suited up. 

"I think we are three individuals within ourselves. I think we are the person we think we are, the person other people think we are and the person who we really are," he said. 

"And to find the real person within yourself that's the goal, working toward what you believe in and making things happen."

Liking this content? Now, check these out: 

Civil Rights Pioneer Viola Desmond To Be Featured On Canadian $10 Bill

Human Rights Campaign And HBCU Buzz Partner To Launch The First LGBT+ HBCU Alumni Network

Simone Biles Is The First Woman To Win Four All-Around World Titles