A world renowned New Orleans-based acoustic engineer, aka Monty “Can You Hear Me Now” Williams, was quoted before Game 2 of the Pelicans' playoff series at Oracle Arena with this brilliant bon mot: “I’m not so sure that the decibel level is legal there, and I’m serious.”
What a brilliant piece of strategery by the Pelicans coach. Here's the news, Monty: Making noise for the home teams and razzing the visitors is an inalienable right for all card-carrying, leather-lunged sports fans.
Now permit me to turn the volume down on coach Williams and offer a few points that should be considered by teams, leagues and building operators.
Long term hearing damage caused by the “Pump up the Volume” cacophony from opening whistle to final horn is becoming a “Can You Hear Me Now?” problem for the world of sports. The noise for change from concerned constituencies is growing louder when it comes to protecting the hearing of fans who are screaming their heads off at venues throughout the country.
“People think it’s cool or funny or whatever, but there is increasing evidence that if your ears are ringing, damage is happening,” said M. Charles Liberman, a professor of otology at Harvard Medical School and the director of a hearing research lab at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
The Seattle Seahawks boast that their fans caused a small earthquake after a Marshawn Lynch 2011 touchdown at Qwest Field. The team shouted from the top of the Space Needle about their crowd’s record 136.6-decibel noise level last September after an effort orchestrated by the fan group “Volume 12.”
In a Kansas City Chiefs game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium last October, the pandemonium peaked at 142.2 decibels. The noise level at Arrowhead is the current world record for an outdoor stadium. Chiefs Coach Andy Reid said he could “feel the ground shaking” and later heard ringing in his ear not covered by his headset.
Other sports are following the NFL’s lead. The roaring from the home crowd at a Sacramento Kings game reached 126 decibels in setting a record for an indoor arena on Nov. 11, 2013 at Sleep Train arena. Nobody was napping at that game and now the "Roaracale" fans have something to shout for.
Fans are being audio bombed, programmed, prompted and prodded to get Loud! Louder! LOUDER! Vocal outputs are measured by all manner of scoreboard supergraphic noise meters. Vocal chords are strained to set world records.
Is anyone considering the damage done to the sense of hearing by the race to break the sound barrier at sports events everywhere?
Specialists say hearing safeguards like noise reduction headphones are critical for young ears in the deafening world of many sports events. Hearing loss from exposure to loud noises can be cumulative and irreversible. I’m reminded of a photograph from a few years ago of Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees holding his small son during the raucous post game celebration with the little guy wearing his noise reduction headphones. Stadiums and arenas are being creatively constructed to maximize crowd noise. The debate on which teams artificially enhance their home fans' lungs with speaker sound continues. And some are literally paying a price for their "artificiality."
It is time for team management and venue operators to start listening to the experts and concerned fans, before they can’t hear them at all.