Disrespect or Patriotism?

Fans at a Blackhawks hockey game in Chicago don't have to feign interest in the National Anthem, because they're part of the performance. But once again, the discussion has cropped up of how patriotic--or disrespectful--Hawks fans are. At many public events, the National Anthem has become simply routine and largely ignored, something you just have to wait through to get to the main event. It is not like that at a Chicago Blackhawks home game. In Chicago, it's not just the tradition before the event, it's an integral part of the game. 

The crowd has been cheering during the anthem since game 3 of the 1985 Western Conference Finals versus the Edmonton Oilers, but the real tradition began when Wayne Messmer sang the anthem in 1991, just after the start of the first Gulf War. Even Wayne Gretzky wasn't sure the game should have been played that night. But after that game, and in regard to the cheering during the anthem, he said, "But the overwhelming sign of patriotism, the appreciation of one's country ... it gave me goose bumps." A fan was quoted as saying, "I don't think the anthem is something that always has to be taken in some sort of solemn reverence. I cheered during the anthem because I love my country."

The cheering has only gotten louder since that game. Hands go over hearts and tears have to be fought back as the cheering reaches its crescendo at "And the rockets red glare."  "I love hearing from veterans that I brought tears to their eyes," says Jim Cornelison, who has been performing the anthem for the Blackhawks on and off since 1996. "It's one of the best parts of the job."

U.S. military veterans are invited to stand beside Jim during the anthem. It's also tradition for fans to scream and applaud loudly and for players to reach over the wall and bang their sticks on the ice as other military veterans in attendance are announced to the crowd.

The emotion and appreciation on the faces of the vets is all that needs to be said about the patriotism of a Chicago Blackhawks hockey fan.

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