Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins and Flyers urge Pa. congress to support the Willie O’Ree Gold Medal act

HARRISBURG — The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers organizations urged all the members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, both Republicans and Democrats, to support the bipartisan Willie O’Ree Gold Medal Act.

Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. 

O’Ree, 85, made his National Hockey League debut in 1958 as a player for the Boston Bruins. He is often referred to as the “Jackie Robinson of ice hockey” and was the first Black player in the NHL.

The Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act was introduced on February 25, 2021 in recognition of his extraordinary contributions and commitment to hockey, inclusion, and recreational opportunity.

This bipartisan legislation was introduced earlier this year by Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Scott (R-SC) and Representatives Emmer (R-MN), Quigley (D-IL), Higgins (D-NY), and Katko (R-NY).

Fans can also voice their support by posting to social media using #WillieForTheGold. 

A copy of the letter to Pennsylvania’s Congressional Delegation can be found below:

To the Honorable Members of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Congressional Delegation,

On behalf of the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, we are reaching out to request your support in honoring Willie O’Ree for his extraordinary contributions to sport, service, and society by cosponsoring the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act (S. 452 and H.R. 2249).  This bipartisan legislation was introduced earlier this year by Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Scott (R-SC) and Representatives Emmer (R-MN), Quigley (D-IL), Higgins (D-NY), and Katko (R-NY),

Willie O’Ree was the first Black player to compete in the National Hockey League (NHL). A multi-sport athlete known as the “Jackie Robinson of Hockey,” Mr. O’Ree once intended to play professional baseball. After he experienced segregation first-hand during a tryout in the Jim Crow era, he turned to professional hockey. Despite being blind in one eye from an injury he suffered while playing amateur hockey in the 1955-56 season, he made his NHL debut in 1958 playing for the Boston Bruins. O’Ree would go on to play more than 20 seasons of professional hockey and 45 games in the NHL from 1958-61.

In 1998, O’Ree was named the NHL’s first-ever Diversity Ambassador. In this role, O’Ree helped develop the Hockey is for Everyone youth organizations, which offer minority and underserved children the opportunity to play hockey, build character, and develop important life skills. Hockey is for Everyone programs have served more than 130,000 boys and girls at over 26 programs across 40 locations in North America.

Mr. O’Ree’s countless visits to schools, community centers, and hockey rinks across the country have changed many young lives for the better, and his service provides an example for all Americans and residents of Pennsylvania to follow. In November 2018, Mr. O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in recognition of his efforts to grow the game – efforts that continue today, as O’Ree continues to promote diversity and access to sport at 85 years old.

To honor Willie O’Ree for his lifetime of contributions to the sport of hockey and to our nation, Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Scott (R-SC) and Reps. Emmer (R-MN), Rep. Quigley (D-IL), Rep. Higgins (D-NY), and Rep. Katko (R-NY) have introduced the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act, which would acknowledge his contributions and commitment to hockey, inclusion, and recreational opportunity.

He is more than deserving of this honor for his trailblazing career and his decades of service dedicated to creating greater opportunities for all young people.  To cosponsor, or if you have questions, please reach out to Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office or Congressman Mike Quigley’s office.

Thank you for your consideration,

Valerie Camillo

President of Business Operations, Philadelphia Flyers

David Morehouse

CEO and President, Pittsburgh Penguins