Willie O’Ree to receive Congressional Gold Medal as NHL celebrates Black History Month

Willie O’Ree made history by breaking the NHL’s color barrier as the league’s first black player in 1958. Last month, the Boston Bruins honored him by having his No. 22 jersey retired to the TD Garden rafters.

O’Ree, 86, was the 12th player in team history to have his number honored, joining such standouts as Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely, among others.

The city of Boston declared Jan. 18 “Willie O’Ree Day” to help celebrate the event.

Willie O’Ree to receive Congressional Gold Medal

On Monday, it was announced that Willie O’Ree will receive the Congressional Gold Medal. The award is given by Congress and is an expression of national appreciation.

President Joe Biden signed the bill that reads:

S. 452, the “Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act,” which provides for the award of a Congressional Gold Medal to Willie O’Ree, in recognition of his extraordinary contributions and commitment to hockey, inclusion, and recreational opportunity.

White House

After breaking the league’s color barrier on Jan. 18, 1958, O’Ree played in 44 more games for the Bruins over two seasons, including 43 games in the 1960-61 season, in which he recorded four goals and 10 assists on 62 shots.

He went on to champion hockey in the Boston community via youth sports, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport in 2018 and he has served as a diversity ambassador for the NHL for the past several decades.

He coined, “Hockey is for Everyone,” which also became the name of the NHL’s social change and inclusion initiative.

willie o'ree
Jan 18, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Former Boston Bruins player Willie OÕRee has his number retired prior to a game against the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

NHL to celebrate Black History Month

The NHL and NHLPA will celebrate Black History Month with “28 days of storytelling across their social and digital platforms.”

“February is an important month to reflect on the achievements of Black men and women, while also emphasizing the need to amplify ongoing action across the League and Clubs to ensure the Black community is represented and welcomed in the sport of hockey,” said Kim Davis, NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives and Legislative Affairs. “Our commitment to this work is embedded in the phrase ‘Hockey is for Everyone.’ The NHL has long used this phrase not as a statement of today’s reality, but as a vision for the future – a vision that is increasingly coming to life on the ice, in the stands, and in the boardroom, where Black voices and perspectives continue to move the game forward. Black History Month is a meaningful opportunity for everyone within hockey’s ecosystem to reinforce the year-round movement for positive change.”