Honoring our Black pioneers will always be a top priority here at BAW, and thankfully the U.S. Senate unanimously felt the same way when it came to passing legislation that will hopefully grant NHL’s first Black player, Willie O’Ree, with the Congressional Gold Medal.
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O’Ree’s historic run in the National Hockey League began in 1958, playing as a winger for the Boston Bruins at a time when the league only consisted of six teams. In a more astounding twist to his story, Willie was actually blinded in one eye two years prior to his debut, which would’ve disqualified him from playing altogether if he didn’t hide it from officials. He would go on to play for just over two decades before retiring in 1979.
With all the adversities against him, here’s what O’Ree told CNN in regards to his biggest hurdles:
“In every game he played in, O’Ree previously told CNN, he heard name calling from opposing players and from fans in the stands. ‘Besides being Black and being blind in my right eye, I was faced with four other things: racism, prejudice, bigotry and ignorance,’ he said.”
In a 2007 NHL profile on his career, he even was quoted as saying, “Racial remarks from fans were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto or Montreal,” further adding, “I particularly remember a few incidents in Chicago. The fans would yell, ‘Go back to the South,’ and, ‘How come you’re not picking cotton?’ Things like that. It didn’t bother me. Hell, I’d been called names most of my life. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn’t accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine.”
The legislation will now head over to the U.S. House of Representatives for approval before the 85-year-old Hockey Hall Of Famer officially gets his rightfully deserved gold.
We’re sure it’s coming!