Willie O’Ree might be in line for more recognition.
U.S. senators Tim Scott and Debbie Stabenow urged their colleagues to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Hockey Hall of Famer. O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier in January 1958, and a movement to bestow Congress’ highest civilian honor upon him now is afoot.
“Please join us in honoring Willie O’Ree for his extraordinary contributions to sport, service and society by cosponsoring the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act,” Scott and Stabenow wrote in a “Dear Colleagues” letter, per NHL.com’s William Douglas. “Mr. O’Ree is best known as the ‘Jackie Robinson of ice hockey’ after he became the first black player to compete in the National Hockey League as a member of the Boston Bruins. Through his groundbreaking contributions and commitment to professional hockey, Mr. O’Ree has had a profound impact on the sport for the past sixty years.
“At the time, he was unaware of the significance, only learning of the historic accomplishment when he read about it in the newspaper the following day. As the sole black player in the league, Mr. O’Ree endured bigotry, and prejudice from players and fans on and off the ice.
“Willie O’Ree is a pioneer in the game of hockey and is deserving of the distinguished honor of a Congressional Gold Medal.”
O’Ree played his first NHL game Jan. 18, 1958 when he skated for the Boston Bruins. He went on to play professional hockey for 21 years.
A bill to award O’Ree the Congressional Gold Medal was introduced in May. Stabenow and Scott introduced a similar bill in the Senate late lost month. At least 290 House members must co-sponsor the bill in that chamber, and at least 67 senators must support the bill in order for it to be considered.
If Congress approves O’Ree’s bid, he’ll join Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, members of USA’s 1980 Summer Olympics team, Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson among athletes who have received the Congressional Gold Medal. Civil-rights icons Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Coretta Scott King also have received the award.