Friday, June 14, 2024

Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player, to receive Congressional Gold Medal

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Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player, is having quite the year. On Monday, less than a month after the Bruins retired his No. 22 jersey at TD Garden, President Joe Biden signed the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal act. 

The bill will give O’Ree a Congressional Gold Medal, the U.S. Congress’ highest honor, for his contributions to “hockey, inclusion and recreational opportunity.” O’Ree is the first player in NHL history to receive the honor. 

The bill unanimously passed through the House on Jan. 19, and the Senate followed suit on July 27. It’s unclear when O’Ree will claim his award, though.  

“This esteemed honor is befitting Willie O’Ree, a pioneer whose impact on hockey has been groundbreaking, profound and enduring,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Tuesday. “A true pioneer and trailblazer, O’Ree can add another achievement to his list of accolades: the first hockey player to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in its nearly 250-year history. Congratulations, Willie, and well deserved.”

O’Ree, 86, broke the NHL’s color barrier on Jan. 18, 1958, when he skated for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens. He played only one more game for Boston that season, but in 1960-61 he played an additional 43. O’Ree ended his NHL career with four goals and 10 assists. 

Since 1998, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s diversity ambassador and played a pivotal role in building the league’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2018. 

O’Ree will soon add a Congressional Gold Medal to his already illustrious resume. 

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