Referred to as “the Jackie Robinson of hockey,” O’Ree, 85, broke the NHL’s colour barrier in 1958 with the Boston Bruins, one in all six groups on the time.
Regardless of being blind in a single eye from a earlier hockey harm, O’Ree performed in 45 video games within the NHL with the Bruins, scoring 4 objectives and recording 10 assists. He retired from the game in 1979 at age 43. He has spent the previous 20 years because the NHL’s variety ambassador, working to develop the game.
O’Ree beforehand informed CNN that whereas he understood the importance of fulfilling a private profession objective of enjoying within the NHL, he hadn’t understand within the second that he had turn into the primary black participant in league historical past by stepping onto the ice.
“I did not understand that I used to be breaking the colour barrier till I learn it within the paper the subsequent morning,” he mentioned.
In each recreation he performed in, O’Ree beforehand informed CNN, he heard identify calling from opposing gamers and from followers within the stands. “Moreover being Black and being blind in my proper eye, I used to be confronted with 4 different issues: racism, prejudice, bigotry and ignorance,” he mentioned.
The laws would award O’Ree the nation’s highest civilian award that Congress can bestow “in recognition of his extraordinary contributions and dedication to hockey, inclusion, and leisure alternative.”
The invoice was first launched in 2019 by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. They reintroduced the laws in February.
“From the hockey area to serving younger athletes in his neighborhood, Willie O’Ree’s legacy has impressed generations,” Scott mentioned. “Willie’s profession did not finish on the ice; it was punctuated by the generations of athletes he helped navigate the trail he paved.”
“I sit up for the Home performing rapidly on this well-deserved recognition of Willie’s historic achievements,” the senator added.
CNN’s Jill Martin, Dan Kamal and Leah Asmelash contributed to this report.