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Monday, November 12, 2018

First Black NHL Player Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame

Willie O'Ree, first Black NHL player

Nationwide — William O’Bree, the first African-American player to play in the National Hockey League, was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, nearly six decades since he joined the league. Now 83 years old, O’Bree will be honored not just for his historical significance but also for his contributions in spearheading numerous youth programs across North America.

O’Bree made history when he started playing for the Boston Bruins in 1958. In his 24 seasons in professional hockey, he had to endure several offensive insults just because of the color of his skin.

In one incident, he had his teeth purposely knocked out by his opponent’s hockey stick. Another time, he had been yanked and attacked by a mob of hostile fans. He was often put on minor leagues, too. Despite that, he still loved the game and continued playing it.

“I heard that N-word so many times that I just let it go in one ear and out the other,” O’Ree told The New York Times. “I never fought because of racial slurs or remarks. I fought because guys speared me, butt-ended me, crosschecked me and things of that nature. Otherwise I would have spent every game in the penalty box.”

O’ree persevered all those challenges and paved the way for other Black athletes who want to follow in his footsteps. After retiring from hockey, he also spent decades of working with young players across North America through different youth hockey and outreach programs.

“Willie O’Ree’s story must not be forgotten,” Karl Subban, a father of three Black NHL draft picks, told Sports Illustrated. “He has made it possible for my boys to have the NHL dream and to believe they could achieve it. He changed hockey which is now for everyone. Hockey needed him and so does the Hockey Hall of Fame. The time is right!”

Watch his story below:

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