BOSTON (CBS) — Willie O’Ree was once despised and discriminated against because of his skin color.
“I was faced with racism, bigotry, prejudice and ignorance and discrimination,” Willie said to a group of 1400 students at the Anti-Defamation League Youth Congress in Boston.
On January 18, 1958 Willie O’Ree became the first African -American to play in the National Hockey League. Willie says being the first black player came at a price. On Friday, Willie shared his message at the 22nd anti-defamation league conference in Boston.
“Every time I went to the ice I was faced with racial slurs because of my color and my brother taught me names will never hurt you unless you let them. I had black cats thrown on the ice and told me to back to the cotton fields and pick cotton,” Willie said.
Despite the racial attacks Willie says he never fought back.
“I didn’t let it hurt me. I let it go in one ear and out the other. I never fought one time because of racial slurs or remarks,” Willie said.
Throughout his career he scored 450 goals, opening up the doors for all black and people of color.
“Even today people are amazed that for the 21 years I played pro hockey I played with one eye. A lot of people say it’s impossible and it is but you can do the impossible if you really work hard,” Willie said.
With all the racial tension happening at many Boston schools willies message really hit home.
“It was very empowering and what he did was awesome and how he overcame the obstacles,” student Gabrielle Buissereth said.
Now 80 years old Willie runs diversity clinics all around the nation.
“You boys and girls can make a difference so stay in school,” Willie said.