A tweet is easy. A hashtag morality costs nothing and requires nothing of its sender but obedience to the cause celeb. The Pittsburgh Penguins and their corporate partner Dicks Sportings Goods are also walking the walk with a hockey program for Black youth players in the Pittsburgh area as part of the Willie O’Ree Academy presented by Dicks.
For such a worthwhile endeavor, we’ve printed the name of the corporate sponsor.
Tuesday night, the Penguins gave the players at the UPMC Lemieux Complex a special treat. Unannounced beforehand, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman P.O. Joseph was their guest instructor. The Penguins informed Pittsburgh Hockey Now and all media outlets of the appearance but asked outlets not to ruin the surprise for the players with advance Tweets or stories.
The O’Ree academy was designed by the Penguins Foundation to provide unique training, social, and mentorship opportunities for Black youth hockey players in the Pittsburgh region. The program is named in honor of Willie O’Ree, who became the NHL’s first Black player in 1958 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2018.
The Willie O’Ree Academy is in its eighth week of a nine-week program. For more information on the Willie O’Ree Academy, visit here.
Joseph, 21, is a player of color and currently the only such player in the Penguins system. However, other black players have skated for the Penguins recently, including Georges Laraque and Ryan Reaves.
The young Penguins defenseman doesn’t currently figure to be a top-six defenseman on the NHL club at the start of the 2021-22 season, as three established players and contracts are ahead of him, including Marcus Pettersson.
However, the players gave Joseph a hearty stick tap when instructors introduced him at the beginning of the one-hour practice. In his Penguins workout gear, Joseph worked on skating drills with the youth players and dazzled with a few stickhandling moves before allowing goalies to make a save.
For the final 20 minutes of practice, Joseph officiated a scrimmage, though it appeared he “let the boys play.” He’ll fit in just fine in the NHL. He also led one rush and dished a would-be assist. Watch the end of the video–Joseph had to scrap at the net, too. Whoever that little guy was, we like his grit!
According to the unofficial count on Wikipedia, there are only 31 players of color currently on NHL rosters, including Joseph and his brother Mathieu with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
NHL players, including those who are a part of the NHL Diversity Alliance, have encountered racism on the way to the NHL. Tuesday night Joseph dismissed those who would display such ignorance and sling hate.
“We didn’t care about it… You encounter it here and there, on the ice and off,” Joseph said. “But you ignore their ignorance and surround yourself with good people. Plus I think my family would protect us.”
But Joseph did not dismiss the importance of seeing familiar faces. Growing up in Montreal, Joseph looked up to former Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.
Perhaps soon the players at the O’Ree Academy in Pittsburgh will be citing Joseph as the player they look up to.
And that’s the point. Good job, Penguins Foundation, O’Ree Academy.