I love college sports! The games are exciting, the venues are typically beautiful, and the fans are rabid – especially the alumni! I don’t often get to the games in person, but recently I attended two. I enjoyed them both, but my goodness – the noise level! Thinking of all those young people in the stadiums exposed to this week after week, I wondered, shouldn’t there be a law against second-hand noise?
The first game I attended was a basketball game, so I expected it to be loud and could plan ahead. Basketball stadiums are typically enclosed, full of hard surfaces, and the squeaking of the basketball sneakers alone is enough to drive me crazy. Add in the cheering of the crowd, the screaming of the coaches (basketball coaches never just talk), and it can be extremely noisy. The game I attended clocked in at 90 decibels for much of the time.
Conversation was almost impossible, but lucky for me, I was sitting next to someone else with hearing aids (I hadn’t known that beforehand), which made things easier. We lamented the noise levels, turned off our hearing aids and enjoyed the game in relative quiet, sacrificing conversation for sanity. I even wore my noise cancelling headphones, which helped a great deal.
The second game was a college football game. The stadium was open-air, and besides the PA system being a little bit loud, the sound level was generally okay, until the whistling began. There was one man seated near our group that did not just clap, but whistled at every opportunity. Offense or defense, his whistle was a constant. It was excruciating. Now before you think I was just being picky, this was not a purse your lips and whistle, this was a two fingers in the mouth calling the kids home for dinner from 10 miles away kind of whistle. It must have been 100 decibels or more. And he kept doing it. Nonstop.
Because of my particular hearing loss, I am very sensitive to high pitch sounds, so when the whistling started, I tried to take care of the problem myself. I turned my hearing aids down, but that didn’t work. At one exciting defensive moment this man whistled for what seemed like a minute straight. I am not sure how he had the strength. At this point, I had my hearing aids turned off, my hood on, my fingers in my ears, and I was frantically digging through my bag looking for any stray earplugs or even some tissue to roll up. I was literally doubled over in pain.
Finally, my mother-in-law came to my rescue. Unbeknownst to me, (I was still doubled over trying to block out the noise), she walked over to the man and said, “I admire your enthusiasm, but we have a deaf person in our party who is wearing hearing aids (I’m not sure I am comfortable with the word deaf, but let’s leave that for another post), and your whistling is killing her. Can you please stop?” And he did, for a little while. But people don’t remember and he started up again after halftime. Eventually I gave up and watched the rest of the game from the perimeter of the stadium. In hindsight, I should probably have made my whole family move given the damage this noise was doing to everyone’s hearing.
These two experiences got me thinking about second-hand noise pollution. There are laws about second-hand smoke, so why not second-hand noise? In the first instance, everyone in the basketball stadium was exposed to unsafe noise levels, and in the second, our whole section was. I am not advocating for no cheering. I like to root for my team as much as anyone, but structural changes in stadium design or requirements for soundproofing or insulation could improve things. There should be a law.