Quigley Introduces Legislation to Honor Hockey Legend Willie O’Ree
U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) introduced legislation to award hockey legend Willie O’Ree the Congressional Gold Medal. O’Ree, who is known as the “Jackie Robinson of ice hockey,” was the first black player to compete in the National Hockey League (NHL) and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. The Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act is co-lead by Reps. Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), John Katko (NY-24), and Tom Emmer (MN-06).
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.
“Willie O’Ree deserves our fierce admiration for his achievements both on and off the ice. He is more than just a hockey player. He is a champion for diversity and inclusion and an inspiration to young players everywhere. I was proud that Willie was finally inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year and I’m proud to be leading legislation now to award him with the highest form of recognition for outstanding achievements, the Congressional Gold Medal,” said Quigley.
“Though Congress doesn't agree on everything, we all agree on Willie. An extraordinary trailblazer and ice breaker, Willie paved the way for so many athletes who didn’t think they could make it to the big leagues. He is the embodiment of resilience, grace, and dignity and I am honored to cosponsor legislation to award him with the Congressional Gold Medal,” said Pressley.
“Willie O’Ree is a remarkable individual and is representative of values we cherish as Americans. When he broke the National Hockey League’s color barrier in 1958, he became a symbol of equality and opportunity for aspiring athletes of color,” said Katko. “Willie is extremely deserving of the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation’s highest civilian honor, and it is a privilege to introduce this legislation with my fellow Congressional Hockey Caucus co-chairs.”
“To the sport of hockey, Willie O’Ree is a legend and an icon. As a hockey player and fan, I have seen the extraordinary and historic impact Willie has had over the years. His efforts to increase access to the sport of hockey for individuals from every walk of life has made our sport and our country better. I am honored to co-sponsor this legislation to honor him with the Congressional Gold Medal. It’s time Willie receives the recognition he so rightfully deserves,” said Emmer.
The Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act has been endorsed by the NHL, NHL Players’ Association and USA Hockey and has over 50 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.
“Willie O’Ree is a trailblazer, ambassador, and role model who has dedicated his life to the mission of inclusion and growing the game of hockey. Willie is the epitome of class and has touched the lives of more than 100,000 children through his role as our Hockey is For Everyone ambassador. There is no one more deserving of this tremendous honor than Willie O’Ree,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress’ highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Past recipients have included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, and Winston Churchill.