Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in NHL history, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were part of a panel discussion Monday when Classroom Champions and the NHL launched Lessons from Willie.
The program uses O’Ree’s journey to teach critical lessons on social justice and racism.
O’Ree became the first Black player in NHL history when he made his debut with the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958. He played 45 NHL games during two seasons (1957-58, 1960-61) with the Bruins despite being blind in his right eye, the result of an injury sustained in junior hockey. He scored 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) during his NHL career while enduring some racial taunts from spectators and opposing fans.
The panel connected classrooms from each Canadian territory and province with O’Ree for a Q&A. Other panelists included “Willie” documentary producer Bryant McBride, founder of Hockey4Youth Moe Hasham, Jamaica-born hockey player Brittany Morrison, Olympic and pro hockey player Sarah Nurse and Canadian sportscaster Ron MacLean.
The highlight of the discussion was Trudeau recalling a 2018 visit to his office from O’Ree, who presented him with an autographed stick. Trudeau told O’Ree he still keeps the stick by his desk as a testament to “Willie’s perseverance” and as a reminder of the work that still needs to be done for equality.
O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2018 for his off-ice accomplishments that helped cultivate a new generation of players and fans as the NHL’s diversity ambassador.
NHL players are wearing a decal featuring an image of O’Ree wearing his trademark fedora and the words “Celebrating Equality,” througout Black History Month.
For more information on the program, fans can visit www.LessonsFromWillie.com.