In 1961 Willie O’Ree broke one of the final color barriers in professional sports when he became the first black to play in the national Hockey League.

A forward with the Boston Bruins, O’Ree played only 45 games in the NHL. The fans’ opposition was so intense that, despite the hard-hitting nature of professional hockey, O’Ree says the playing surface was the safest place for him.

O’Ree went on to play in the minor leagues until age 43.