New Jersey Local News, Breaking News, Sports & Business.

Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the NHL to be honored by the Bruins and expected to be honored by Congress

[ad_1]

The NHL was the last major professional sports league to accept black players when Willie O’Ree, then a 22-year-old striker, skated for the Boston Bruins in the late 1950s. Today, that achievement – and O’Ree’s lifelong sponsorship of the game in minority communities – is being recognized in Boston and on Capitol Hill.

O’Ree, now 86, was playing minor league hockey in Quebec when he got the call.

“On January 18, 1958, the Bruins called the Quebec Aces and said, ‘We want O’Ree to meet the Bruins in Montreal for two games against the Montreal Canadiens,'” he said.

O’Ree did what Jackie Robinson did 11 years ago – incorporate a white sport as a black professional.

“They sat me down and said, ‘Willie, we raised you because we think you could add a little something to the club. Don’t worry about anything else, just go out and play your game,'” said he.

The nimble winger did, and after his debut described it as “the greatest thrill of my life … I will always remember this day.”

O’Ree talked about achieving his ultimate goal: to play in the NHL and not make racial history. “I didn’t realize I had broken the color barrier until the next day when I read it in the newspaper,” he said.

However, he said he had encountered racial hatred from both opposing players and fans. Black players in professional sports knew what to expect and should silently endure the abuse.

O’Ree played 45 games over two seasons in the NHL, then returned to minor league hockey, where he was successful and twice surpassed the previous goal records.

In San Diego, where O’Ree played eight seasons in the minor leagues, his number is the only one in the rafters to be honored with a banner. Later this month, Boston will be withdrawing O’Ree’s jersey number: 22.

“I’m overwhelmed and really excited,” said O’Ree. “I am very stunned.”

He is already in the Hockey Hall of Fame, he has a statue in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and is expected to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Senator Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Mike Quigley have spearheaded efforts to bring him the highest civilian honor in Congress.

“He’s really someone who has the courage and what we want as a role model for our children,” said Stabenow.

Quigley said when he first named O’Ree for the medal, “very, very few knew who he was”. In fact, the Illinois representative said he didn’t learn about O’Ree until he was an adult.

“When he went to Chicago Stadium as the Boston Bruin, the fans were the worst in the league and so were the players,” said Quigley. “It’s hard to hear because those were my heroes who grew up.”

The Senate has already passed a resolution to award O’Ree the gold medal and the House of Representatives stands ready to pass it in the coming weeks.

And O’Ree was not only the first black player in the NHL, he also spent his entire professional career blindly in the right eye.

“It was a blow from the top,” he said of the injury that caused him to lose his eyesight. “The puck came up and hit me flat in the right eye and broke my nose.”

O’Ree’s surgeon said he would never play hockey again, but within weeks he was back on the ice and aspiring to the NHL. He swore his family secrecy and never told any team about his blindness.

“So I just said, ‘Forget what you can’t see and just focus on what you can see,'” said O’Ree.

What he couldn’t see then was the enduring power of his example.

“You can only imagine what he’s been through,” said Anthony Duclair, who plays for the Florida Panthers.

“As a young black man who plays hockey in a predominantly white sport, you don’t see many black athletes,” Duclair said. “Definitely motivated me to make it to the NHL and really pass it on to the next generation.”

O’Ree has spent the past 25 years passing it on to the next generation as one of the NHL’s diversity ambassadors, bringing hockey to underserved minority communities.

“This is what I tell these children, you can do whatever you want to do. said Ree. “And never give up.” The NHL was the last major professional sports league to add black players to its ranks when Willie O’Ree, then a 22-year-old striker, skated for the Boston Bruins in the late 1950s. Today, that achievement – and O’Ree’s lifelong sponsorship of the game in minority communities – is being recognized in Boston and on Capitol Hill.

O’Ree, now 86, was playing minor league hockey in Quebec when he got the call.

“On January 18, 1958, the Bruins called the Quebec Aces and said, ‘We want O’Ree to meet the Bruins in Montreal for two games against the Montreal Canadiens,'” he said.

O’Ree did what Jackie Robinson did 11 years ago – incorporate a white sport as a black professional.

“They sat me down and said, ‘Willie, we raised you because we think you could add a little something to the club. Don’t worry about anything else, just go out and play your game,'” said he.

The nimble winger did, and after his debut described it as “the greatest thrill of my life … I will always remember this day.”

O’Ree talked about achieving his ultimate goal: to play in the NHL and not make racial history. “I didn’t realize I had broken the color barrier until the next day when I read it in the newspaper,” he said.

However, he said he had encountered racial hatred from both opposing players and fans. Black players in professional sports knew what to expect and should silently endure the abuse.

O’Ree played 45 games over two seasons in the NHL, then returned to minor league hockey, where he was successful and twice surpassed the previous goal records.

In San Diego, where O’Ree played eight seasons in the minor leagues, his number is the only one in the rafters to be honored with a banner. Later this month, Boston will be withdrawing O’Ree’s jersey number: 22.

“I’m overwhelmed and really excited,” said O’Ree. “I am very stunned.”

He is already in the Hockey Hall of Fame, he has a statue in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and is expected to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Senator Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Mike Quigley have spearheaded efforts to bring him the highest civilian honor in Congress.

“He’s really someone who has the courage and what we want as a role model for our children,” said Stabenow.

Quigley said when he first named O’Ree for the medal, “very, very few knew who he was”. In fact, the Illinois representative said he didn’t learn about O’Ree until he was an adult.

“When he went to Chicago Stadium as the Boston Bruin, the fans were the worst in the league and so were the players,” said Quigley. “It’s hard to hear because those were my heroes who grew up.”

The Senate has already passed a resolution to award O’Ree the gold medal and the House of Representatives stands ready to pass it in the coming weeks.

And O’Ree was not only the first black player in the NHL, he also spent his entire professional career blindly in the right eye.

“It was a blow from the top,” he said of the injury that caused him to lose his eyesight. “The puck came up and hit me flat in the right eye and broke my nose.”

O’Ree’s surgeon said he would never play hockey again, but within weeks he was back on the ice and aspiring to the NHL. He swore his family secrecy and never told any team about his blindness.

“So I just said, ‘Forget what you can’t see and just focus on what you can see,'” said O’Ree.

What he couldn’t see then was the enduring power of his example.

“You can only imagine what he’s been through,” said Anthony Duclair, who plays for the Florida Panthers.

“As a young black man who plays hockey in a predominantly white sport, you don’t see many black athletes,” Duclair said. “Definitely motivated me to make it to the NHL and really pass it on to the next generation.”

O’Ree has spent the past 25 years passing it on to the next generation as one of the NHL’s diversity ambassadors, bringing hockey to underserved minority communities.

“This is what I tell these children, you can do whatever you want to do. said Ree. “And never give up.” Ill

More

Download our free app

For the latest news and analysis, download the free CBS News app

[ad_2]

Comments are closed.