Willie O’Ree changed hockey forever on Jan. 18, 1958 when made his debut for the Boston Bruins as the first Black player in the NHL. In celebration of Black History Month and O’Ree’s impact on the sport, “Willie,” a documentary on the Hall-of-Fame player, was made available to more than 15,000 schools and youth sports organizations in the U.S. and Canada.
O’Ree, a descendant of escaped slaves, played 45 games in the NHL before spending 22 years in the minor league. He was 60 years old when he was asked to become the NHL’s diversity ambassador in 1994 — a position he holds to this day. A must-see film, “Willie” tells his journey and pursuit of opportunity. Historic in both its sweep and scope, it’s as relevant today as ever.
The film was accompanied by a turnkey educator’s guide and additional programming, all hosted on LessonsFromWillie.com, which can be used to spur meaningful conversations.
“Willie” will be available beyond the classroom, syndicated across 75 percent of the U.S., in partnership with Gray Television. It’ll also air nationally across Canada on TSN. The film will be available for streaming on NBC’s Peacock streaming service — free tier — and on Crackle in the U.S. and Crave in Canada.
This year, from Martin Luther King Jr. Day through February, all NHL players wore a custom helmet decal paying tribute to both Willie and Dr. King and the idea of celebrating equality.