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NHL Launches New Social Justice Education Program

February 5, 2021 

The NHL has teamed up with Classroom Champions and the producers of the documentary ‘Willie’ - about Hockey Hall of Famer and the first black player in NHL history, Willie O'Ree - to offer a digital experience to facilitate important conversations about social justice and racism based on Willie’s experiences.  

Willie O’Ree changed hockey forever on January 18, 1958 when he debuted with the Boston Bruins, ultimately playing in 45 games during two seasons despite being blind in his right eye. He scored 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) during his NHL career while enduring some racial taunts from spectators and opposing fans. His journey of resilience and determination is showcased in the award-winning film.

The Lessons from Willie program, which includes an educator's guide, a tool for parents, teachers, clubs and coaches, will help facilitate meaningful lessons on the topic and has been made available to more than 15,000 schools and youth sports organizations in the United States and Canada. Through live chats classrooms and clubs can also register to talk directly with professional hockey players, the filmmakers and supporters about their personal experience with social justice.

The lessons center on nine themes: Equality vs. Equity, Progress, Coping & Resiliency, Racial Socialization, History, Representation, Barriers, Language and Allies. Participants will have access to the online curriculum, the full O'Ree documentary and mindful minute videos on varying topics around social justice and race told by various athletes.   

The educator's guide, with downloadable lesson plans, is designed to enable teachers, students, families, coaches, fans and community organizations to learn more about social justice and racism by highlighting themes from the documentary such as representation, fairness, allyship and the power of words - and to share O’Ree’s history and experiences. 


The hockey legend paved the way for many, helping initiate critical change throughout the hockey world. O'Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2018 for his off-ice accomplishments that helped cultivate a new generation of players and fans as the NHL's diversity ambassador.

In an effort to share Willie O’Ree’s story more broadly and celebrate the 63rd anniversary of his NHL debut, “Willie” is currently being syndicated across 90 million households and approximately 160 local broadcast stations in partnership with Gray Television in the United States. In Canada, the film will air nationally on TSN. It is also available to stream on NBC’s Peacock and Crackle in the United States, and on Crave in Canada. 

“Black players – male and female – have shaped hockey from the beginning and have an increasingly significant impact on the game, the way it is played, the communities it reaches and the relationships with our fanbase,” said Kim Davis, NHL Senior Executive Vice President, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs. 

“For the NHL, Black History Month is not only a time to recognize the magnitude of historic Black contributions, such as the formation of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes in 1895 and Willie’s trailblazing debut in 1958, but also a time to amplify efforts that foster a greater sense of inclusion for the Black community throughout the sport – be it on the ice, in the stands or in the board room.” 


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