Monday, January 21, 2008


As the final hours of the observed holiday of Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday dwindle, I wanted to relay a story from Yahoo! Sports as well as ESPN regarding one of sports' most overlooked moments.

It was fifty years ago on Friday that Willie O'Ree took a shift for the Boston Bruins, becoming the first black player to ever play in an NHL game. Though several others were given tryouts in the fifties, he was the first to have been called up and suit up. His time was brief and his overall NHL career was short. His recognition has grown slowly over the past decade, yet in this era of instant entertainment and information, O'Ree's name has finally become one to search.

Over a week ago, a few people asked me about my thoughts about the unfortunate incident with Kelly Tilghman in regards to her comments about Tiger Woods. I declined to delve into the story for many reasons, including already having been spent from a recent conversation about race that incensed me to no end. I felt that there are many writers who have spoken in a far better manner than I ever could, so adding to the fray would have been fruitless, in my opinion. However, when I heard that the Bruins were going to honor O'Ree and that the league will duplicate its efforts later this month at its All-Star festivities in Atlanta, I was excited to know that his story would be told admist all of the insanity in sports at the moment.

Personally, I've always been at least a casual fan of hockey, contrary to what my skin tone may tell the sporting public at-large. When I first came on the air for WHCR's What's Going On back in August, I had the honor of speaking with him and assisting with the interview. O'Ree was extremely insightful and encouraged by the fact that though there are still few minorities in the game, there is an interest from fans about trying to diversify the game. O'Ree and I discussed the common experiences of being black and in Boston, an oil-and-water story that is never fully told in proper context. We discussed his role in mentoring some of the game's dynamic players over the past twenty years such as Grant Fuhr and Jarome Igilna. Most of all, listeners got the sense of a man who wanted to use his footnote to build a chapter in the long history of the NHL, as well as all of sports. Again, it was an honor, but I hope that in another fifty days, let alone years, the sporting public won't need to scour for information about him.

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