NEW YORK – Throughout the month of February, ESPN commemorated Black History Month with several televised and digital specials, including Willie, a 90-minute documentary about the National Hockey League’s first black player, Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree.
The documentary contains never-before-seen home movie footage, original interviews, and first-person accounts from friends and family across North America. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman appears, as does Dean of the MIT School of Humanities and expert on race and retrospective justice Dr. Melissa Nobles; the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau; and “Willie” producer Bryant McBride, the first black executive in the NHL who is also responsible for hiring O’Ree as the NHL’s diversity ambassador.
ESPN’s African-American employee resource group, PULSE, and ESPN Original Content hosted a New York screening for the film featuring a Q&A with McBride and Brian Lockhart, executive producer, ESPN Original Content.
Kati Fernandez, ESPN Original Content associate director, coordinated the event.
Said McBride: “While Willie’s dedication to the sport of hockey and to helping others has helped so many already, our hope is that this partnership with ESPN will ensure that his work has generational impact across the sports world and beyond.”
“Given the impact Willie has made – and continues to make – on the game, we’re excited to bring his story to the forefront on our platforms,” Lockhart said. “His journey is a great example of the meaningful and impactful stories we appreciate and love to tell.”
Said Fernandez: “Willie’s story serves as a testimony to many of us. He has demonstrated the power of resilience, which we felt was important to highlight.”
In the video below in a February edition of ESPN’s “Outside The Lines,” host Ryan Smith interviews O’Ree about his pioneering NHL days, the documentary “Willie” and more.