Senate Passes Bill To Honor Willie O’Ree, The First Black National Hockey Player, With Congressional Gold Medal
Willie O'Ree debuted as the first Black NHL player in 1958 with the Boston Bruins.
July 30, 2021 at 12:11 pm
The Senate has passed a bill to award Willie O’Ree, the first Black hockey player to play professionally in the NHL, with the Congressional Gold Medal, The Hill reports.
On Tuesday, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) and Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), who introduced the bill in February, announced that the measure received unanimous support by their colleagues in the Senate. Now, the legislation awaits final approval in the House.
O’ Ree, who is known as the “Jackie Robinson of hockey,” was described by Stabenow as a “trailblazer for young people across the country.”
The U.S. Senate just passed the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act!
Willie is one step closer to the highest civilian honor that Congress can give. Now it’s up to the House of Representatives. Visit https://t.co/mvB4Xtmdbz to help. #WillieForTheGold
— NHL (@NHL) July 27, 2021
“He has also been a leader in the community, including his leadership through the Hockey Is For Everyone programs he championed in Detroit and around Michigan,” Stabenow said. “Willie O’Ree has set an example for all of us as Americans.”
Kim Davis, NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs, lauded O’Ree’s contributions to 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,” Davis said.
O’Ree made his debut in the NHL with the Boston Bruins in 1958. He played two seasons in Boston before playing professionally in the Western Hockey League for 13 years. Amazingly, O’Ree played while being blind in one eye from an injury he suffered playing junior hockey.
For his work to promote the game, he was named the NHL's first diversity ambassador in 1998 where he helped launch 39 grassroots hockey programs that taught over 120,000 boys and girls to play the game.
In 2018, O'Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and his life story was captured in an award-winning documentary, Willie, that was released in 2019.
The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded to individuals or groups for their distinguished achievements and contributions to American society. Past recipients include Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, The Little Rock Nine, Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King and others.
Scott said he looks forward to the House “acting quickly on this well-deserved recognition of Willie’s historic achievements.”