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January 12, 2022

Pressley-Quigley Bill To Honor Hockey Legend Willie O’Ree Reaches 290 Cosponsors

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Rep. Mike Quigley’s (IL-05) legislation to honor hockey legend Willie O’Ree with the Congressional Gold Medal officially reached the threshold of 290 cosponsors, which allows the legislation to receive a vote in the House of Representatives. O’Ree was the first black player in the National Hockey League (NHL) and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. The legislation is co-led by Representatives Brian Higgins (NY-27), Tom Emmer (MN-06), John Katko (NY-24), and Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and passed the Senate in July. It now awaits a final vote from the House. 

“Willie O’Ree is an extraordinary trailblazer, ice breaker, activist and inspiration to any player who has ever doubted their place in the big leagues,” said Rep. Pressley. “He has paved the way for so many athletes—particularly young Black athletes—and I am thrilled that our bill to award him the Congressional Gold Medal is closer to passing the House of Representatives than ever before. We’ve been fighting hard to get this bill across the finish line, and I thank Congressmen Quigley and our colleagues for their partnership in this effort.” 

“My colleagues and I have been working toward this day since first introducing this bill in 2019. Willie O’Ree is not only a trailblazer but is also a source of inspiration for millions of young athletes of color and a fierce advocate for diversity in hockey,” said Quigley. “Now that we have the required number of cosponsors, it is time for this bill to receive a vote. Two hundred-ninety bipartisan cosponsors from across the political spectrum agree that Willie O’Ree deserves a Congressional Gold Medal. I am calling on House leadership to bring this bill to the floor and finally present Mr. O’Ree with this honor.” 

“Willie O’Ree is a legend of the sport. As a lifelong hockey fan, player, and coach, Willie’s legacy is captivating and inspiring,” said Rep. Tom Emmer. “He isn’t just a trailblazer: Willie’s work to make hockey accessible for young people from every walk of life has reinvigorated the sport. I am proud to co-lead this legislation to honor Willie with the Congressional Gold Medal, and give him the place in history he deserves.” 

“Willie O’Ree has made a lasting impact on the game of hockey both on and off the ice. He is a champion advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sport and an inspiration for many young athletes of color, making him most deserving of this Congressional honor,” said Rep. Brian Higgins. “I am proud to join my colleagues in leading this legislation and with bipartisan support from 290 members, it’s time to bring this bill to the House floor.”

“Willie O’Ree broke the National Hockey League’s color barrier in 1958 and became a symbol of equality and opportunity for aspiring athletes of color,” said Rep. John Katko. “Willie is a remarkable individual and is representative of values we cherish as Americans. He is extremely deserving of the Congressional Gold Medal. It was a privilege to introduce this legislation with my fellow Congressional Hockey Caucus Co-Chairs, and I strongly urge House Leadership to bring this measure to the House Floor for a vote.” 

“We are one step closer to honoring Willie O’Ree with the Congressional Gold Medal, an honor that he truly deserves. Willie O’Ree was not only a trailblazer as the first black NHL player, but he has committed his career to expanding access to the game of hockey. In Michigan, his Hockey Is For Everyone program has changed the lives of so many young people. Willie O’Ree has set an example for all of us as Americans,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow. 

“From the hockey arena to serving young athletes in his community, Willie O’Ree’s legacy has inspired generations,” said Senator Tim Scott. “Willie’s career didn’t end on the ice; it was punctuated by the generations of athletes he helped navigate the path he paved. Following the Senate’s unanimous passage, I look forward to the House acting quickly on this well-deserved recognition of Willie’s historic achievements.”

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.

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.