Senator Stabenow and the National Hockey League Announce House Passage of the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act

O’Ree was the First Black Player to Compete in the National Hockey League

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow and the National Hockey League (NHL) today announced that bipartisan legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Willie O’Ree passed the U.S. House of Representatives and next heads to President Biden to be signed. O’Ree was the first Black player to compete in the NHL.


Known as the “Jackie Robinson of Hockey,” O’Ree played professional hockey for 22 years, including for an Original Six franchise, the Boston Bruins. Senator Stabenow is leading the effort to award the Congressional Gold Medal to O’Ree to recognize his lifetime of contributions to the sport of hockey and communities across the country. The bill passed the U.S. Senate on July 27, 2021.


“Now that the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act has been passed by Congress, we can move forward on awarding Willie O’Ree the honor that he truly deserves. Willie O’Ree was not only a trailblazer as the first Black NHL player, but he has dedicated his career to expanding access to the game of hockey. In Michigan, his Hockey Is For Everyone program has changed the lives of so many young people. Willie O’Ree has set an example for all of us as Americans,” said Senator Stabenow.


"The power of Willie's achievements and contributions has always extended beyond the sport of hockey, and the NHL is thrilled to see him honored for his social and cultural impact via the Willie O'Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act," said Kim Davis, NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Social Impact, Growth, and Legislative Affairs. "For decades, Willie has been an opportunity icon for children of color, for those with physical disabilities, and for all those who are in pursuit of their dreams. We could not be more excited for Willie to receive this very special recognition."


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. In 1998, O’Ree was named the National Hockey League’s first-ever Diversity Ambassador, championing positive social change through hockey. In that role, O’Ree built the Hockey Is For Everyone youth hockey program, which has supported more than 30 organizations across North America, including in Detroit, Michigan, providing boys and girls from minority and underserved communities the opportunity to play hockey, build character, and develop important life skills. In November 2018, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in recognition of his efforts to grow the game.


Senator Stabenow first introduced the bill in 2019 and reintroduced the bill on February 25, 2021. To find photos of Senator Stabenow and Willie O’Ree, click here.