Noise and Sports
Can sports hurt your hearing? Indeed it can, especially if you are in the audience. The role of a crowd at a sporting event is to enjoy itself, and to cheer on the preferred team or athlete. Cheering can boost the teams, pushing them to play harder and better. So there is a relationship between the crowd and the sport. But nowadays, the crowd noise is beyond belief, and often beyond the pain threshold.
George Prochnik has a few pages in his book “In Pursuit of Silence” in which he describes various sports arenas in the USA where the volume of crowd sound is incredibly loud. (See pp 102 – 105.) I had forgotten this issue since I never go to large sports arenas. But I used to, when my step-son played professional football. The Rogers Centre in Toronto has a huge sound system and seating for about 40,000. And it got LOUD in there, even with a small crowd in the stands, loud enough to hurt my ears.
One of the arenas Prochnik mentions is the Qwest Field in Seattle, home to the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. (That is football, American style, to those who don’t know!) He points out that the team’s owner asked the architects to “design the stadium to reflect a maximum of crowd noise back onto the field.” (Prochnik 103) Apparently they call the home crowd the “12th Man”, referring to the crowd’s impact on the game down on the field, which has 11 players. Here is link to the stadium. Imagine the volume with the roof closed!
Here is a 1988 video of a football game where the crowd is so loud that the referees give the team a time out, because they cannot hear the play being called on the field. But as the announcer says, that is the idea of that much noise.
Back in Canada: At Rexall Place in Edmonton, home of the Edmonton Oilers (of the NHL), the crowd noise has reached 119 dB during playoff games! Here is a link so you can hear it! And since hockey rinks are enclosed, the sound cannot escape out the top of the stadium. It stays inside and reverberates.
Speaking of hockey – Here is a link to a public health message about the effects of hockey game noise from a hearing consultant company in Vancouver.
Basketball, of course, is also played indoors, so the noise level is contained, making it even more dangerous for your hearing. Here is a link to a game where the crowd is trying to get the arena as loud as they can. It hits 118 dB!
And soccer (or football as it is known outside of North America) is another noisy sport. In 2010 we witnessed the arrival of the vuvuzela, which on its own is a noisy noise maker. Put one in the hands of everyone in a crowd of 50,000 people and the volume is beyond belief. Listen here; and here.
Of course there are quiet sports events too. Golf comes to mind. Although this clip suggests that my idea about golf is out of date.
And tennis requires the crowd to be silent during play, except seemingly after great points, as in this video of the Davis Cup in Vancouver, in 2012. (Be careful, this clip is very loud. It scared me when I played it.)
And one thinks of a marathon as a solitary sport, one in which the runner pits herself against herself, her pain, and tries to endure and succeed. (Perhaps you have read “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”?) And yet there is a role for the crowd of spectators even in this solo sport. At the end of the race there is a crowd of well-wishers, and their role is to provide a boost to the runners who are near the end. Here is some footage of runners entering Manhattan during the NYC Marathon of 2007. The runners seem pleased by the sound.
So sound and noise shows up in yet another of our human endeavours. If you are going to attend any large sports event, especially one indoors, take your earplugs!