Known as the “Jackie Robinson of hockey”, 85-year-old O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier in 1958 with the Boston Bruins, one of six teams at the time.
Despite being blind in one eye from a previous hockey injury, O’Ree played 45 games in the NHL with the Bruins, scoring four goals and recording 10 assists. He retired from the sport in 1979 at the age of 43. He has spent the past two decades as the NHL’s diversity ambassador, working to expand the sport.
O’Ree previously told CNN that while he understood the importance of pursuing his individual career goal of playing in the NHL, he didn’t realize the moment he was the first black man in league history to step onto the ice. Players have become.
“I didn’t know I was breaking the color barrier until I read it in the newspaper the next morning,” he said.
O’Ree previously told CNN that every game he played, he called names from opposing players and fans in the stands. “Besides being Black and being blind in my right eye, I faced four other things: racism, prejudice, bigotry and ignorance,” he said.
The law would award O’Ree the nation’s highest civilian award that Congress can award “in recognition of his exceptional contributions and commitment to hockey, inclusion and recreational opportunity.”
The bill was first introduced in 2019 by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabeno of Michigan and Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. He reintroduced the law in February.
“From the hockey field to serving young athletes in his community, Willie O’Ree’s legacy has inspired generations,” said Scott. “Willie’s career didn’t end on the ice; it was punctuated by generations of athletes he helped navigate the path he built.”
“I look forward to the House acting quickly on this worthy recognition of Willie’s historic achievements,” the senator said.
CNN’s Jill Martin, Dan Kamal and Leah Asmelash contributed to this report.