Willie O’Ree, #22 Jersey Gets Retired
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The greatest honor a player can receive is having their jersey retired. Your jersey and every NHL home game your team will ever play will build an unbreakable relationship. Willie O’Ree‘s No. 22 jersey was retired by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night before the team’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Willie O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier as the league’s first Black player in 1958.
Ask any of the 11 other Bruins players whose numbers hang on the wall: getting your number retired is a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself. While it’s not the same as being put into the Hall of Fame or winning a Stanley Cup, it’s a step in the right direction since it signifies you’re being recognized for your contributions to the organization and what you meant to the team during your time there.
Boston Bruins: Willie O’Ree – The 1st Black NHL player
O’Ree’s entrance into the NHL was marred by racially motivated attacks, slurs from fellow players and fans, and even violent targeted altercations on the ice. O’Ree’s two front teeth were knocked out, and his nose was damaged in the latter incident.
We’ll never know what it was like for Willie to live in a time when open racism was the norm. But, even if the same pressures today act in more indirect ways, we may connect some of our experiences to the same forces that Willie had to contend with.
Still, more has to be done to address the underlying causes of Willie’s story. Youngsters need our help to feel encouraged and empowered in hockey. Racial inequalities persist in society, affecting Black people and other people of color. As the hockey world celebrates Willie’s retirement, we should remember how critical these issues are, how far past generations have come, and how each of us can contribute to progress by pledging to be a force for good.
Willie’s jersey retirement is an award that recognizes his groundbreaking achievements while also sending a message that he will be remembered for a lifetime. Despite all odds, Willie O’Ree had a huge impact on his team and the National Hockey League. And we’re all better off as a result.
In 1958, the Bruins took a chance by giving Willie a chance to play despite the threat of racial retaliation. It is commendable of the corporation to take such a risk. Willie is now one of the most legendary names in franchise history, having seized the opportunity to help his team, the sport, and the community.
Willie refused to be deterred by the circumstances. He was eventually traded to the Montreal Canadiens, who never offered him another chance to play in the NHL. O’Ree didn’t have a long NHL career, but he did play for the Bruins twice.
So, here’s the deal: the true measure of Willie’s legacy isn’t the number of NHL games he played, but the door he opened for every diverse player who came after him. In our perspective, He could’ve played one game, and his impact would still be massive.
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