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Congressional gold medal sought for NHL player O’Ree

Willie O’Ree was the first black player in the National Hockey League, an accomplishment that could be recognized with a congressional gold medal.

Image in public domain.

The list of bills introduced in Congress seeking congressional gold medals continues to grow.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., introduced S. 452 on Feb. 25 seeking a medal honoring Willie O’Ree “in recognition of his extraordinary contributions and commitment to hockey, inclusion, and recreational opportunity.”

O’Ree, 85, is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player, best known for being the first black player in the National Hockey League.

O’Ree played as a winger for the Boston Bruins. O’Ree’s professional hockey career spanned from 1958 through 1979.

According to his biographical information, midway through his second minor-league season with the Quebec Aces, O’Ree was called up to the Boston Bruins of the NHL to replace an injured player. Two years earlier, O’Ree had been blinded when he was hit in his right eye by an errant puck, an injury that would have precluded him from playing in the NHL if the Bruins had known. O’Ree made his NHL debut with the Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958, becoming the first black player in league history.

After O’Ree’s stint in the NHL, there were no other black players in the NHL until another Canadian player, Mike Marson, was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1974.

From 1998 on, O’Ree has been the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, traveling across North America to schools and hockey programs to promote messages of inclusion, dedication, and confidence.

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