Major League Baseball spares no effort in celebrating the life and achievements of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the sport’s color barrier. Now, the National Hockey League is lobbying congress to gain recognition for the “Jackie Robinson of Ice Hockey.”
Willie O’Ree, the first black hockey player in the history of the NHL, was on Capitol Hill Thursday as lawmakers introduced legislation which would award him with the Congressional Gold Medal, the Hill reports.
Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, are co-sponsoring the legislation.
“You were the grandson of slaves from South Carolina,” Scott said of O’Ree.
“I would just like to put the icing on the cake from my perspective that this country continues to evolve in the right direction. That in a time and date when there’s so much incivility, so much division and polarization, the one thing that you represent today is what you represented in 1958, is that in this country, all things are so possible.”
O’Ree responded, “They still are.”
The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded to those, “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”
Only eight athletes have ever received the award.
O’Ree, 83, entered the NHL in 1958 as a member of the Boston Bruins. The Canadian-born trailblazer would play professional hockey for 21 years before eventually retiring in 1979 with the San Diego Mariners of the PCL.
“Thank you for being a trailblazer in a sport that I would imagine, even today, people are unaware of the significant role that you played in opening the door,” Scott said.
O’ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year.
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