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Edward Flattau Headshot

The Game Is Not Enough

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At recent professional baseball and basketball games, I found my enjoyment greatly diminished by a virtually uninterrupted deafening din from high-powered loudspeakers.

So the incessant stream of rock music, canned applause, announcements, and cheerleading reverberating throughout the facilities was an irritant. Aren't there many fans who don't mind (and even like) this constant jarring cacophony? Perhaps, yet there is something far more disturbing than merely not being able to hear one's own voice over the bedlam. A health hazard is in play. Hearing loss is at risk if the decibel level rises too high and persists too long. And preliminary research indicates that this is often the case in modern day professional sports facilities with their juiced up loudspeaker systems.

Corroboration can be found in the position taken by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). It warns that any noise level above 85 decibels can adversely impact hearing depending on the length of exposure. (Normal conversation hovers around 60 decibels.) Since noise levels at sports stadiums and arenas routinely reach 110 to 120 decibels, any continuity of that intensity creates an auditory risk.

The National Football League illustrates the concern. Games tend to average 90 decibels throughout their duration. NIOSH recommends exposure of only one hour at that average noise level to avoid risk of hearing damage, hardly enough time to witness completion of the first half. How many ticketholders would comply? And what about new NBA arenas whose high-powered loudspeaker systems in an indoor enclosure generate much greater noise intensity than even football stadiums? Walking away from these events with ringing in your ears that results in a temporary decrease in hearing function can have serious long term auditory consequences. Hence, post-game mild short-lived hearing impairment should not be taken lightly.

Most promoters of top professional sporting events seem to feel compelled to provide virtually non-stop ear-shattering entertainment to complement the main attraction. They have evidently concluded their basic product alone will not entice fans to return for future contests (perhaps reflecting some latent managerial concern over the potential negative effect of an extravagant ticket price structure).

No one is suggesting any diminution of the roar of the crowd in response to a spectacular athletic feat. It is an elemental part of the spectator role and is too intermittent and brief anyway to pose a noise pollution hazard. But the relative quiet that used to occur during timeouts, half time intervals, and in between innings is now replaced by a frenetic blare from loudspeakers.

Superior sound-proof construction designs and materials could alleviate arenas' acoustical problem, and ear plugs are effective in reducing dangerous excessive decibels without eliminating a sporting event's familiar background noise. But it is impractical to distribute ear plugs and get everyone to wear them at every contest.

I have a better idea. Let's hear the real crack of the bat again, the actual bounce of the basketball against the hardwood floor. Scale back the clamor to spare our eardrums and allow the games to speak for themselves.

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