Kenan Thompson Pushes For Willie O'Ree To Receive Top Honor

By Jason Hall

May 7, 2021

Actor and comedian Kenan Thompson is backing a growing effort for Boston Bruins legend Willie O'Ree to receive the nation's highest civilian honor.

Thompson penned a first-person essay for calling for O'Ree, the NHL's first Black player, to receive the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday (May 5) and support of the bipartisan Willie O'Ree Congressional Gold medal Act.

Thompson -- a former child star who has since gone on to become Saturday Night Live's longest tenured cast member and the star of the NBC program Kenan -- said he was unaware of O'Ree when he starred in two of the Mighty Ducks sequels as a teenager, but once he learned of O'Ree breaking the NHL's color barrier in 1958, and the push for him to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, he was inspired to lend his support.

“Willie may not be a role model we all knew when we were growing up, but I think he should have been, and will be, if we give him the recognition he deserves,” Thompson wrote. “The Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor that Congress can give, is one very powerful way to recognize everything Willie stands for. It’s time to decorate Willie with the gold medal.”

Thompson -- played the "knuckle puck"-shooting Russ Tyler in the second and third installment of the Mighty Ducks franchise -- is referencing the bipartisan act introduced by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Tim Scott (R-SC) initially 2019 and reintroduced last February, the Boston Globe reports.

The legislation currently has 38 of the 67 co-sponsors needed to pass in the Senate, though it has yet to be introduced to the House.

"You can't hear that story and not think of Willie as a role model for resilience, inclusion, and opportunity," Thompson added. "I've thought a lot about these themes in reference to my own hockey connection, being part of "The Mighty Ducks" franchise. People from all different backgrounds have told me how much they love the Ducks (and the famed knuckle puck) because we were kids from a variety of cultures, income levels and skill levels who came together through the game of hockey. "

O'Ree, 85, had his number 22 retired and raised into the rafters prior to the Bruins' game against the New Jersey Devils on February 18.

O'Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, honored as a "builder" of the game, which recognizes individuals who contributed to the development of the game of hockey. The Canadian former winger became the 12th Bruins player to have his number retired and raised to the TD Garden rafters.

NHL players leaguewide also wore a decal on their helmets honoring the anniversary of O'Ree's NHL debut in January and February.

Photo: Getty Images

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