Another year has past and it’s another year that Willie O’Ree did not get his call to the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s also a time where people, while joyed about other players, scratch their heads when it comes to the player who broke the NHL black color barrier (Larry Kwong being the first to break the color barrier in 1948) not being enshrined into the Hall of Fame for the sport. There’s one simple answer to this:
The Hockey Hall of Fame voters are short-sighted and protected by their voting process not being revealed.
That said, they seem to only look at him as a player who played only 45 games in the NHL, while playing almost 800 for a then rival league in the pre-junior Western Hockey League. In the old WHL, O’Ree had 328 goals and 639 points. While it is the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s few and far between when someone who did not make an impact in the NHL gets into the Hall. However, in this case– there’s a caveat to it all.
Put Willie O’Ree in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder.
The HHOF looks at a builder to be one who contributes to the growth of the sport. There’s been no one who has done that as much as O’Ree, even after his playing days are through. Hell, you can say that since he retired in 1979, he’s been more involved in getting Afro-Americans and Afro-Canadians into hockey than he was while he was playing.
To this day, O’Ree is spoken about by players like Joel Ward and PK Subban about the impact he had on them when they were growing up, even though they probably didn’t see much footage of him playing. O’Ree is the ambassador for the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative and serves as the director of youth hockey for the NHL Diversity program. The footprint he has left outside of the sport, decades after his last shift, is something that never seems to be taken into account when it comes to the Hall of Fame voting.
When you don’t have the person who not only broke the black color barrier in the NHL, but still continues to spread the message of hockey to the Afro-North American community in the Hockey Hall of Fame, there’s not a lot of slack you’ll get from people about it. Especially when you have the ability to put someone into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder. There’s no one who has help build the game of hockey in different segments of the US and Canada as O’Ree has and continues to do.
Don’t make the same gaffe you did with Pat Burns, Hockey Hall of Fame voters. Let’s be able to celebrate the life and times of Willie O’Ree while we still have him around to celebrate with.