Bernie Sanders Meet Bronco Hall of Famer Bernie Saunders
The now gone-viral Bernie Sanders meme, with the Vermont senator sitting masked with mittens at the inauguration, is actually a great chance to remember a local sports hero and a true pioneer. Western Michigan University hockey Hall of Famer Bernie Saunders and late brother John, the ESPN anchorman, were the first two black hockey players at WMU. Afterwards, Bernie went on to play professionally, and became just the fifth black player in National Hockey League history, with the Quebec Nordiques, in the 1979-80 season.
Saunders' WMU career was quite successful, being inducted into the Bronco Hall of Fame in 1994, and his banner hangs from the rafters at Lawson Ice Arena. Saunders left WMU as its all-time leading scorer. In 140 games, he scored 76 goals and had 78 assists for 154 points and he still ranks in the top 20 on the Broncos' all-time points list.
The NHL celebrated Willie O'Ree, the NHL's first black player, on opening night this month. But other 94 black players who followed O'Ree all had to deal with various amounts of racism in their careers. Saunders became a pretty good fighter, but realized he had to watch is anger as he was also a talented goal scorer.
After his hockey career ended with the Kalamazoo Wings in the mid-1980's, Saunders went on to a successful career at Upjohn Company here in town.
Saunders was highly recruited coming out of high school, but told wmubroncos.com that ending up at WMU turned out good for him. "Kalamazoo was the best thing for me, and those years were the best thing for me developmentally for my career,'' Bernie Saunders said. ''It's interesting how those twists and turns in life turn out.''