The NHL announced on Monday that players will wear helmet decals to honour Willie O’Ree, and to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day in recognition of the late civil rights leader.
The decals, which feature a picture of O’Ree and a message of “celebrating equality” will be worn beginning on Jan. 16 and throughout February, which is Black History Month.
This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls on Jan. 18 — the same date that, 63 years ago in 1958, saw O’Ree make his Boston Bruins debut and in doing so break the league’s colour barrier as the first Black player in the NHL.
O’Ree said in the league’s press release Monday that he’s “thrilled, overwhelmed about the stickers.”
O’Ree, now a Diversity Ambassador with the league, played 45 NHL games over two seasons, all with Boston. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018 for his influence on the game.
“To honour Wille, putting on that [decal] is going to be great for everybody,” Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds said in the press release. “Obviously for Black players like myself, he started the movement for us to even be considered to play in the NHL, and I think that goes for every other player of colour in this league. Without Willie, none of this would be possible.”