NHL lobbies for Willie O’Ree to get Congressional Gold Medal

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Willie O’Ree, the first black player to compete in the National Hockey League, was on Capitol Hill on Thursday with the NHL’s legislative affairs team for the announcement of legislation to award him the Congressional Gold Medal.

“You were the grandson of slaves from South Carolina,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

“I would just like to put the icing on the cake from my perspective that this country continues to evolve in the right direction. That in a time and date when there’s so much incivility, so much division and polarization, the one thing that you represent today is what you represented in 1958, is that in this country, all things are so possible,” Scott added at a press conference. 

{mosads}“They still are,” O’Ree, 83, responded.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award Congress can give. The Canadian-born O’Ree became the first black professional hockey player in 1958, when he played for the Boston Bruins. He went on to play professional hockey for 21 years.

“Thank you for being a trailblazer in a sport that I would imagine, even today, people are unaware of the significant role that you played in opening the door,” Scott said.

O’Ree was named the NHL’s first-ever diversity ambassador in 1996, and has helped develop the Hockey is for Everyone youth organization, which teaches the sport to minority and underserved children. It has served over 120,000 children so far.

He recalled an incident in 1962 when a Chicago Blackhawks player made racial remarks toward him on the ice. They got into an altercation and were both thrown out of the game.

O’Ree said he thought at the time, “I’m not going to leave the league because there’s somebody there that feels that he wants to try and agitate me and get me out of the game.”

O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year.

Tags Debbie Stabenow National Hockey League NHL Tim Scott

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