Skip to content

O'Ree: 'Very discouraging' to see racism, police violence in modern society

Mike Stobe / National Hockey League / Getty

Hockey trailblazer Willie O'Ree, who became the first black man to play in the NHL in 1958, is troubled by the death of George Floyd and the violent confrontations between police and protestors that have followed in the United States.

"I'm 84 years old and didn't think I'd witness some of the stuff that's going on, but this dates back to the slavery age," O'Ree told The Canadian Press.

"It's very discouraging to see what's going on now."

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed last week in Minneapolis while in police custody. The video of his death circulated on social media, sparking protests across the U.S. that have been met with police force in some cities.

Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, whose knee was on Floyd's neck for over eight minutes, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The first charge was upgraded to second-degree murder Wednesday, and the three other officers involved in Floyd's death were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. All four officers were fired last week.

"It's just a tragedy that every time an unarmed black man is killed there's really nothing done about it at that particular time," O'Ree said.

"It's like you're here today and gone tomorrow. Your life is just snuffed."

Current and former NHL players including Evander Kane and Akim Aliu, who are part of the small minority of black men to have played in the league, have used their platforms to denounce racism and police injustice while calling for further education and discussion on the issue.

"I think it starts with educating yourself," Aliu said. "Find a way. It's 2020, just look at the history, look at what our ancestors have been through to get to where we are now."

O'Ree has been the NHL's diversity ambassador for over two decades. He's also the league's director of youth development under the Hockey Is For Everyone banner.

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox