Retire #22

It’s election day in the U.S. Please vote to stop your nation’s steady slide into corrupt authoritariansim.

Once you’ve done that, if you’re still feeling a residual impulse to advocate for justice, sign Sydney Kinder’s Change.org petition to retire Willie O’Ree’s number 22 league-wide.*

As the first black player in the NHL, O’Ree endured constant abuse. He describes it briefly in a CBC article today about his newly released book, Willie: The Game-Changing Story of the NHL’s First Black Player:

“Not a game went by where racial slurs weren’t directed at me. I could hear the comments from the stands, people poured drinks on me in the penalty box, spitting in my direction. I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to leave it’s going to because I don’t have the skills and the ability to play anymore. I’m not going to leave it because people are trying to disparage me.’ But it took a lot out of me.”

At 84, O’Ree is still with us, and still working to help the NHL live up to its platitude that “Hockey is for Everyone.”

O’Ree speaks with Blake Bolden, the first black player in the NWHL (2015) and first black woman hired as an NHL scout (2020)

The NHL is still 97% white, and still regularly contends with overt racism among players, coaches, and fans.

Retiring number 22 into the rafters of every arena in the league would cost the NHL nothing; would make a clear statement of values; and ought to be done in O’Ree’s lifetime. Sign the petition already, OK?

* I have no idea how or whether Change.org verifies the identity of petition organizers, but at face value this Sydney Kinder would seem to be the three-sport “Make-A-Difference” award winning student athlete who skated for the SUNY Canton Kangaroos from 2014-2017. That 2017 squad set a school record for wins while notching a cumulative 3.67 GPA, noticeably above the 2.79 average earned by the school’s non-athletes. The kids are alright!

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