US Coins

CFA recommends gold medal designs celebrating NHL's first Black hockey player

Proposed designs for a congressional gold medal recognizing Willie O’Ree — the first black hockey player to play in the National Hockey League — were recommended Feb. 16 by the Commission of Fine Arts.

The advisory panel considered five proposed obverse designs and five proposed reverse designs.

The same designs will be reviewed by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee members during their two-day meeting Feb. 28 and March 1.

The CFA-recommended obverse for the O’Ree medal depicts an older portrait of O’Ree, wearing his trademark fedora hat, backed by the logo of the Boston Bruins, the NHL team for which O’Ree played.

The recommended reverse “depicts a goal being scored by Willie O’Ree while playing for the Boston Bruins. Teammates rejoice behind him as he scores. The inscription FORGET ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE, AND FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN SEE not only refers to his blindness in one eye, but also to his drive and focus in overcoming obstacles to become the first Black hockey player in NHL history,” according to the Mint.

Final design approval will come from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Yellen has the authority to direct the U.S. Mint to produce for sale to the public 1.5-inch and 3-inch bronze duplicates of the O’Ree gold medal.

O’Ree played at a time when there were only six NHL franchises. The second Black player to join an NHL team, Mike Marson, did not join until the 1974–1975 season. O’Ree’s NHL career, albeit brief, opened the door for other players of color to dream about NHL careers. To date, more than 100 Black players have worn an NHL uniform.

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