September 17, 2021
Unprecedented Momentum Grows for Bill Honoring Boston Bruins Legend Willie O’Ree with Congressional Gold Medal
WASHINGTON – Momentum is growing for bicameral legislation led by Reps. Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Mike Quigley (D-IL), John Katko (R-NY), Tom Emmer (R-MN), and Brian Higgins (D-NY) to award hockey legend Willie O’Ree the Congressional Gold Medal. The legislation honoring O’Ree, who was the first black player to compete in the National Hockey League (NHL) and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, recently passed the Senate and has a record number of co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.
“Willie O’Ree’s historic career as a trailblazer, ice breaker, and public servant who paved the way for countless athletes in professional hockey—including those from Black and brown communities—makes him well-deserving of Congress’ highest honor,” said Rep. Pressley. “As we head into the fall, I’m so glad to see support for this important bill growing in Congress and look forward to seeing it across the finish line and onto the President’s desk.”
“As an avid hockey player and fan, I know that Willie O’Ree’s impact on the game is impossible to understate,” said Rep. Quigley. “He paved the way for young people—particularly young people of color—to participate and enjoy hockey. I can think of no person more deserving of the Congressional Gold Medal than Willie O’Ree—not only as an acknowledgment of his legacy but as a signal of hope to all young people of color that they can achieve whatever they set their mind to and break down barriers before them. Congress should take action to pass this legislation and give Willie O’Ree the recognition he deserves.”
“I applaud the Senate for passing legislation to award Willie O’Ree the Congressional Gold Medal. Willie O’Ree is a remarkable individual and is representative of values we cherish as Americans. When he broke the National Hockey League’s color barrier in 1958, he became a symbol of equality and opportunity for aspiring athletes of color. Willie is extremely deserving of the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation’s highest civilian honor, and it is a privilege to continue this push with my fellow Congressional Hockey Caucus co-chairs,” said Rep. Katko.
“To the sport of hockey, Willie O’Ree is a legend and an icon. As a hockey player and fan, I have seen the extraordinary and historic impact Willie has had over the years. His efforts to increase access to the sport of hockey for individuals from every walk of life has made our sport and our country better. I am glad to see my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Congress join me in supporting the effort to issue him the Congressional Gold Medal. It’s time Willie receives the recognition he so rightfully deserves. I hope to see this pass the House floor, and head to the President’s desk,” said Rep. Emmer.
“Willie O’Ree made a lasting impact on the game of hockey. As the first Black player in the National Hockey League, he serves as an inspiration for many young athletes of color. As a player myself, I understand the positive impact the game has on youth”, said Congressman Brian Higgins. “Willie’s contributions to the community and his work to make the game of hockey more inclusive make him deserving of Congress’ highest honor. I am proud to support this legislation.”
The Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act, which the lawmakers originally introduced in the House in May 2019, has been endorsed by the NHL, NHL Players’ Association and USA Hockey and has over 109 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. The legislation passed out of the United States Senate in July.
O’Ree is an extraordinary athlete and activist who overcame numerous challenges and broke historic barriers to ensure that future players of diverse racial backgrounds would have equal opportunities to play hockey. In 1958, O’Ree was called-up from the minors to play for the Boston Bruins, becoming the first black player in NHL history. As the sole black player in the NHL, O’Ree endured racism, bigotry, and prejudice from players and fans on and off the ice. Despite this, he spent more than twenty-four seasons as a professional player in both the NHL and minor leagues. Following his professional hockey career, he became the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, where he established the Hockey Is For Everyone initiative to offer marginalized and disadvantaged children an opportunity to play hockey, create community, and develop important life skills.
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