I've spent a great amount of time around people who have blazed trails, have been the first to overcome an obstacle that many thought was impossible.
While I never met Jackie Robinson, I knew his story very well and have been in the presence of the others who soon followed: Don Newcomb, Larry Doby, and the like.
I've heard the stories of the early Harlem Globetrotters and men like Sweetwater Clifton, the first African American to play for the Knicks.
I have also been around so many of the Yankees leaders over the years who have taken a stand, from Elston Howard to Reggie Jackson. They all handled their situations, especially those dealing with race — with integrity and willful determination.
So it was with great pleasure this week that I learned even more about a man I knew a little of, but now crave to know more about, Willie O’Ree.
The man who broke the color barrier in the NHL, Willie is the subject of a new documentary that is coming out soon, done in partnership with the NHL and coproduced by a man of color who helped bring Willie’s story back to light years after he left the game, former NHL executive and entrepreneur Bryant McBride.
The film was nominated for a special presentation at the Hot Box Film Festival in Toronto, Canada next month, (the largest documentary film festival in North America). The feature will be on the "watch list" not just for hockey fans, but for all who have faced adversity in their lives, when it debuts sometime later this year.
"Willie's story transcends hockey — it is a journey in pursuit of opportunity to blaze new trails and inspire people of all races, both historic in its sweep and scope, and relevant to our current day," McBride told us.
"We are both humbled and honored for this special inclusion."
Actually, it's Willie and Bryant who honor us by telling the story of a man who even hid the fact that he lost the sight in one eye in an accident so that he could continue on to play with the Boston Bruins.
It pained me to read that he gave up his first love, baseball, because of discrimination in the Jim Crow south and turned to the ice for his career. I’m sure he met many of the greats (he talks in the film of meeting Jackie Robinson) and they would have been honored to take the diamond with him.
Just like we will be honored to meet him and hear his full story in a few months.
Willie O’Ree thank you. We look forward to helping get your story to the masses, baseball fans included.
Ray Negron is a sports executive with over 40 years of experience in baseball. His first job came from a chance encounter with George Steinbrenner as a youth. He has become an American film producer, a best-selling author, and a philanthropist. His memoir is entitled, "Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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