Most college and professional sports events are very loud—intentionally so. Team owners, general managers, athletic directors, and coaches have decided that incredible levels of noise are necessary to “pump up” the crowd to give the home team a competitive advantage. The result? These days, attending sports events can be a very acoustically unpleasant experience.
At major league baseball games, public address systems are loud, the organ is loud, and the fans are loud. Many organists design extremely loud, specialized musical introductions for each player.
In 2010, the Florida Marlins gave away obnoxious vuvuzelas to the first 15,000 fans at a game with the Tampa Bay Rays, creating noise hell for fans and players alike. Players called the noise “awful” and “brutal.” One commentator called “Vuvuzela Night” a “disaster of Biblical proportions.”
College and professional basketball games are also extraordinarily loud. The band blasts away. The PA system is almost always piercingly loud. There are screaming fans and constant horns. It is difficult to see how players, coaches, and fans can tolerate these extreme levels of noise.
A San Francisco-area audiologist estimated that the noise at a Golden State Warriors basketball game reached 100 to 120 decibels—which is like listening to a jet engine or a chainsaw. These noise levels risk permanent hearing loss and ringing of the ears.
Fans at several National Football League stadiums have recently attempted to set noise records. On September 26, 2013, fans at Century Link Field in Seattle established a new world record for football stadium noise, blasting in at 136.6 decibels. One month later, crazed fans at Arrowhead stadium in Kansas City beat the record, creating a deafening 137.5 decibels of sound. The official Twitter account of the Chiefs exclaimed, RECORD BROKEN! #LoudandProud.” One Chiefs fan wrote on Facebook, “Be LOUD AND PROUD and blow my eardrums out!”
The NFL is fully on board with all the noise. Once the Kansas City Chiefs broke the world record for stadium noise, the NFL’s web site warmly congratulated Chiefs fans for their sonic accomplishment. Defending the noise, Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, argued that fans know they are going to a football game and not searching for a book at the library.”
On September 20, 2015, the Buffalo Bills played the New England Patriots at Ralph Wilson stadium. Fans were attempting to break the noise record set by Kansas City Chiefs fans on October 13, 2013, where decibel levels reached a defeaning 142.2 decibels. The official Chiefs Twitter account, ”RECORD BROKEN!”
The Buffalo Bills noisefest was the brainchild of Bills fan Brandon “Grippy” Campbell, a 28 year-old car salesman from Tonawanda, New York. Campbell needed to raise the $8,000 required by the Guinness Book of World Records to send an adjudicator and a sound engineer to the game. In three days, Campbell raised $9,195.
Creating an extremely noise atmosphere had the support of Bills coach Rex Ryan. “Oh, I like the sound of that,” Ryan smiled. “That sounds good to me.”
The Buffalo News, joining in the fun, enlisted the advice of an Army drill sergeant, a high school basketball coach, an acoustic architect, and an opera singer on how fans could make the most noise possible. Sgt. First Class Marc Schott advised, “Try to be louder than the guy standing right next to you. If you can hear them over your own voice, you need to be louder.”
What these individuals seem not to realize is that excessive noise is physically dangerous. For most people, exposure to noise above 125 decibels causes physical pain. Even worse, exposure to noise above 140 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss.
Similarly, the Atlanta Falcons have piped in artificial noise through the public address system during games at the Georgia Dome.
The idea for the artificial crowd noise came from the Falcons’ game operations department. Arthur Blank, the Falcons’ owner, has admitted that the team pumped up the noise in the Georgia Dome the last two seasons; he also admits that the noise has an impact on the competitive balance between teams.
The Falcons were attempting to use noise as a weapon. The Falcons’ action embodies the idolatry of noise in American sports and culture.
It is highly ironic that the NFL should punish the Atlanta Falcons for piping in artificial crowd noise, given the fact that the NFL actively promotes extreme noise at their stadiums. Apparently, for the NFL, extreme noise is only a problem if it affects the “competitive balance” between the two teams. The idea that extreme noise is very damaging for human health does not seem to have occurred to them.
The action of the Atlanta Falcons to pipe in artificial noise is consistent with many Americans’ love of noise. In sports and popular culture, loud means “fun.” We need a new understanding: loud means “physically harmful.”
The NFL should not be promoting noise. Excessive noise causes headaches, fatigue, heart problems, and hearing loss. Many professional and college sports teams promote the idea that extreme noise is “fun.” The truth is: extreme noise is very dangerous.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends limiting exposure to noise of 90 decibels and above to no more than one hour. NIOSH estimates that “each year, approximately 30 million people in the United States are exposed to hazardous noise.”
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, nearly ten percent of the United States population has permanent tinnitus (ringing of the ears).
In March 2017, the New York Knicks of the NBA did their fans a huge favor: for the first half of a game, there was no music, no videos, and no in-game entertainment. The message at Madison Square Garden stated that the quiet would allow fans to “experience the game in its purest form.” An online poll showed that 60 percent of respondents said, “Looks and sounds great! It’s what the game is about.”
College and professional sports teams in the United States need to quiet things down, for the health and safety of their fans, players, and coaches.