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National Museum of African American History Honors Black Hockey Players


The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has launched a new exhibit featuring Black hockey history.

Displayed in the “Sports: Leveling the Playing Field” gallery, the new exhibition case explores hockey’s early history, highlighting Black athletes’ contributions.

The gallery also has a life-sized new statue depicting Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the National Hockey League (NHL).

The exhibition and the bronze statue are the first hockey items on view in this section since it opened in 2016.

“When I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2018, I never imagined that I would one day be part of the sports exhibit,” O’Ree said. “This is a very special honor for me and my family.”

O’Ree, who was legally blind in one eye, played 45 NHL games in two seasons (1957-58, 1960-61), all with Boston, and continued to play in the minor leagues until 1979.

“Willie O’Ree changed our game by donning a Boston Bruins sweater and stepping onto the ice of the Montreal Forum 63 years ago,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Willie is a humble, selfless man who not only paved the way for dozens of Black NHL players who have followed him but has used hockey to profoundly impact the lives of thousands of children as our League’s Diversity Ambassador. He has earned every one of the many accolades he has received and this remarkable tribute, displayed in this special place, could not be more fitting.”

Among other items showcased in the new exhibition are:

  • A Columbus Blue Jackets jersey worn by defenseman Seth Jones
  • An autographed stick from Joel Ward, a forward, who played 726 games for the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks
  • Hockey cards of Mike Marson and Bill Riley, Capitals teammates who were the NHL’s second and third Black players, and Tony McKegney, who was the first Black player in the NHL to score 40 goals in a season (1987-88).

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