Do Your Super Bowl Sunday Plans Include Ear Plugs?

By Yishane Lee

Professional football games this season have put the spotlight on a disturbing trend: the purposely loud stadium, as a strategy to flummox the opposing team.

Leading the charge are the Seattle Seahawks, who made it to the Super Bowl XLVIII. Regardless of whether or not they beat the Denver Broncos this weekend, the Seahawks fans will already be remembered—for better or worse—as the noisiest in history. They broke the Guinness record twice this season, most recently with a rating of 137.6 decibels (dB) in December.

Seattle’s own Derrick Coleman, who doesn’t experience the din of the crowds, confronts his hearing loss head on in this Duracell commercial. Coleman has become an inspiration for all those with hearing loss.

At 130 dB, the human ear is subject to immediate and permanent hearing loss. By comparison, a jackhammer is 110 dB, an ambulance siren is 120 dB, and a jet taking off is 140 dB.

My ears hurt just thinking about this insanity. People routinely bring their children to games, subjecting them to lasting hearing damage. All of this is in the name of not only team spirit but, perhaps more importantly, messing up communication for the opposing team and causing them to make mistakes. According to a January 17 article in the Wall Street Journal, “Seahawk opponents committed 174 false start penalties since [Seattle’s CenturyLink Field] opened in 2002, the most in the National Football League.” During the NFC Championship game on January 19, San Francisco 49ers players were even fitted with custom earplugs to drown out the noise and protect their ears.

Some of the organizers of these extremely loud crowd roars—the fan association leaders—seem completely unperturbed by the risk of permanent hearing loss. Earlier this season, the Seattle Seahawks were in a noise-off with the Kansas City Chiefs, whose fans are led by Ty Rowton. (Alarmingly, he says he brings his kids to games, and they do not use ear plugs.) “If we can help our team win, that's what matters most to us. We don't think about hearing loss,” Rowton told Soundcheck, a public radio program, in December.

The author of a front-page New York Times article last November about the phenomenon, Joyce Cohen (who has hyperacusis), was also interviewed for the show, and said, “I think truly, ignorance rules the day. People have no idea, there's been no education about this.” While a Seattle hearing healthcare center donated 30,000 earplugs to fans, they were too big to fit children. A sixth-grader told Cohen that he endured a steady roar “so loud that the insides of you rattle.”

The noise from Seahawks fans is loud enough to trigger a seismograph, used to measure earthquakes. In 2011 the fans’ jumping, stomping, and screaming created enough sound energy equal to a magnitude 1 or 2 earthquake, according to the Seattle Times.

If you’re lucky enough to score tickets to this Sunday’s big game, please don’t forget a pair of earplugs. I’m all for rooting for your team, but not at the expense of your hearing. Frankly, this makes the painted, shirtless fans braving subzero temps seem like geniuses by comparison.

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