Frenzied Fans

October 29, 2014

Despite the Bruins’ loss to the Wild last night, our hopes are still high for the season. What is worrisome, though – aside from Chara’s injury – is the pressure for our crowds to get LOUD! As you can see in this picture from last Thursday’s game, our noise meter was slowly jumping. Fans all over are pushed to show their support with noise. And while we can appreciate a pumped-up, loyal crowd, the noise can be dangerous. It can impact one’s hearing and, surprisingly enough, does not guarantee a home-team win. It can even do the opposite.

The goal of the noise meter isn’t just to get the title of the loudest stadium in the world, but also to get the fans directly involved in the game. The hope is that the opposing team will be intimidated by the noise (this might very well be true, given the level of sound) and the home team will get riled up by their fans’ encouragement. But exposure to loud noise can cause immediate and lasting damage one’s hearing. On Monday, fans at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium broke a record with 142.2 decibels of noise. Director of Otology at Columbia University’s Medical Center made note that “if you’re literally talking about [over] 130 decibels – nobody should ever be exposed to that. There isn’t a safe amount of time for 130 decibels. It’s physically painful as well as acoustically damaging.”

Besides, crowd noise isn’t just a single powerful clap, like a gunshot or a thunder crack, but a rising, lasting buildup of sound. As you can imagine, the longer these fans – and others like them – are exposed to the noise, the more damage they’re causing. According to Alison Grimes, Director of Audiology at the UCLA Medical Center, “people will say, ‘oh, it was just for 10 minutes.’ And what I tell my patients is that noise is cumulative over the lifetime.” Without knowing it, you can cause yourself noise-induced hearing loss, which can be permanent.

And here’s another fact worth noting: while the noise meter most definitely serves to rile up the fans, studies have actually shown that there has never been any conclusive scientific proof that a rowdy crowd can help the team win. It might boost a player’s confidence, but it might cause anxiety, too; the pressure to perform increases as the crowd gets louder and louder. This stress can sometimes cause a negative effect. A player might miss out on an important play simply because he couldn’t hear his teammates, or he might slip up, distracted by the noise. Imagine trying to concentrate and win a shoot-out with a million fans screaming all around you. Talk about negative pressure! So while there’s a chance that volume can help our talented sports teams, is it drewworth the risks – for them and for us?

Now, we’re not saying we have to get rid of the beloved crowd roar. But I’d wager that it would be worth it to reduce it (does it really matter if you’ve got the loudest stadium around?) or at least wear earplugs. Take it from New Orleans Quarterback Drew Brees, shown here with his son after his 2010 Super Bowl win: it’s better to be careful. Wear hearing protection to the games, and then embrace the noise.

Beth S. Levine M.S., CCC-A, F-AAA owner and licensed audiologist, is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology. She is licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Audiology, and certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

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