African-Americans have lost a lot of their history due to slavery and racism before during and after the civil rights movement. Yet history was made when a Canadian-born black man named Willie O’Ree who played 41 games (3 1/2 years/seasons) with the Boston Bruins and this was 1958 at a time blacks didn’t have much ground in the world since this was a milestone since hockey was a white male-dominated sport and for O’Ree since at the time he started his career he was 23 years old. The sports hockey was about 10 years late when it came to the integration of minorities in the NHL because all the other sports had already made the transition by 1950.
Hockey was the only sport holding out since it was what you called the whitest sport ever since they had no black players, team owners, or sportswriters. O’Ree was crossing lines many blacks of his time had a heck of a time playing and being taken seriously in sports. Blacks have not made their place in the hockey world again for nearly 30 years.
It wasn’t until 1998 that Willie O’Ree was formally acknowledged for his groundbreaking historical position as the first black in the NHL and was appointed a director for youth development for the NHL/USA Hockey diversity task force where he goes all over the country establishing programs with different teams. This was a milestone that was long overdue to happen because the face of sports would show some sign that the walls of racism and segregation have started to crumble down. When someone who lived in a time where the color of your skin limited you to advance in something, but it was one man who stepped out of the confinements of racism and segregation to be one of the best players in the NHL. Today’s NHL has recruited people of other ethnic backgrounds to the pro teams that currently make up the team list.
It’s showing that it’s not just whites who made the NHL it’s the fact that more opportunities in the league now more than ever with how they’re recruiting players, team managers, and other areas of the league. When you remove racism and segregation the world of opportunity looks brighter for those who are of a different ethnic background to feel like they can succeed in another area of the sports world.
Hockey will definitely improve with time to allow other ethnic groups to be recruited to play hockey. Until then it will be a majority black and white issue in the league and that’s up to the world to demand to see the full equality that should be in the league and around not just players, team owners/management, but also stretching itself to the audience the sport is trying to draw in to diversify the sport to be a sport anyone can play and enjoy watching. Willie O’Ree spends much of his time in San Diego since he left the league when his knee was so bad that later on, he had to undergo a full knee replacement, but his time is spent traveling the country lecturing and working his position as director of youth development for the NHL’s diversity task force. With O’Ree’s current position this should set the league in the right direction in terms of diversifying the sport of hockey.
Diversity has opened the door for people of all ethnicities to enjoy and it’s a shared interest across the board for all ages. Some make it a family event to incorporate a single sport and in a region where hockey is popular, it’s the chosen sport for some people.