The Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins organizations urged all members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation Tuesday to support the bipartisan Willie O’Ree Gold Medal Act.
O’Ree became the NHL’s first Black player in 1958, when he played for the Boston Bruins, and he is now a diversity ambassador for the league. He is often referred to as “the Jackie Robinson of hockey.”
For more than 200 years, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.
The Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act was introduced on February 25, 2021, in recognition of his extraordinary contributions and commitment to hockey, inclusion, and recreational opportunity. This bipartisan legislation was introduced by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Timothy Scott (R-S.C.), and Representatives Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), and John Katko (R-N.Y.).
In 1998, O’Ree was named the NHL’s first diversity ambassador, helping to develop the Hockey is for Everyone youth organizations, which have served more than 130,000 boys and girls at over 26 programs across 40 locations in North America.
Over the years, O’Ree, 85, has made countless visits to schools, community centers, and hockey rinks across the country, including Philadelphia. In 2018, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in recognition of his efforts to grow the game and for paving the way for Blacks to play in the NHL.
“He had an effect on every single player of color coming into this league,” former Flyer Wayne Simmonds, who is Black, once told The Inquirer. “Without him, we wouldn’t even be in this league ... so there’s a lot of respect I have for Mr. O’Ree. He’s the reason I’m here.
“He is my Jackie Robinson.”