The day after Willie O’Ree dropped the puck alongside US Representative John Lewis at the Capitals Black History in Hockey Night, O’Ree was honored with a reception at the Canadian embassy in Washington DC.
Co-hosted by Canadian Ambassador to the US David MacNaughton and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the reception celebrated the accomplishments of O’Ree, who was the first Black hockey player to compete in the NHL. O’Ree was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.
The event also announced pending legislation to award O’Ree with the Congressional Gold Medal.
The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the highest civilian honors in the US, on par in prestige with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Congressional Gold Medal is bestowed by an act of Congress and a resolution must be sponsored by two-thirds of both the House and Senate in order to be considered.
If O’Ree were to receive the award, he would be the first former NHL player to do so.
The award celebrates a person or group of people who have had a major achievement that has had a major impact on American history and culture. The recipient does not need to be an American.
O’Ree was introduced at the event by freshman Representative Ayanna Pressley, the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. O’Ree debuted in the NHL in 1958 with the Boston Bruins.
Pressley, who arrived at the event following Michael Cohen’s House Oversight testimony earlier in the day, said that as divided as her colleagues may be in politics, she found widespread bipartisan support for the legislation to nominate O’Ree for the Congressional Gold Medal.
“We don’t agree on everything, but we all agree on you, Willie,” Pressley said.
“He represents the very best of what America wants to embody,” Pressley said. “And that is exceptionalism and resilience and generosity of spirit.”
O’Ree wiped tears from his eyes as he took the podium.
For over 21 years, O’Ree has worked as NHL Diversity Ambassador and director of youth development for the NHL’s diversity task force. He has been a part of over 39 grassroots initiatives to grow the sport of hockey in underrepresented communities, including appearances at DC’s Fort Dupont Ice Arena.
“I’m just so happy I still have the opportunity to go around to the different programs in North America and work with these boys and girls and help them set goals and work towards them,” O’Ree said.
O’Ree still gets letters, emails, and phone calls from children he visited ten years ago, thanking him for the impact he’s had through his visits.
Also in attendance at the event were several members of the Congressional Hockey Caucus. Congressman Pete Stauber was impassioned in his remarks on O’Ree’s impact.
“We are forever grateful to you. You deserve this recognition,” Stauber said.
The ceremony concluded with a reading of a letter written by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Willie O’Ree, just like hockey, is one of Canada’s greatest exports. Mr. O’Ree spread a message of perseverance and hope through hockey. He led by example and encouraged countless other minority players in pursuit of their dreams, while making the world of competitive sports more inclusive and diverse,” the statement read.
— NHL (@NHL) February 28, 2019
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.