Shouldn’t There Be A Law Against Second-Hand Noise?

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.

Readers, do you think we need second-hand noise laws?

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30 thoughts on “Shouldn’t There Be A Law Against Second-Hand Noise?

  1. Any noise is FIRST-hand noise! It’s coming directly into our ears from the person or thing creating it. And, as you’ve pointed out, it’s toxic. There are laws and noise ordinances, but it’s challenging with old buildings, especially at events where making noise is the objective. We need to act preventatively. All schools should teach hearing health, starting at the elementary level with programs like Dangerous Decibels and Sound Sense. Nice article, Shari.

  2. Thank you for this post. I can’t even imagine attending a sporting event of any kind. I can hardly handle a quiet restaurant with Muzak in the background and one loud mouth table (there always seems to be at least one). So I (we – my partner in life and I) pretty much avoid noisy places. Unfortunately, more and more this means even friendly groups of six or so, even if they understand my disability. My invisible disability that is, in most situations, usually forgotten.

    My friends think that because I have these obscenely expensive hearing aids that I now have “normal” hearing. I know that I shall never have normal hearing. Normal hearing can handle noisy places by the processes that go on in the brain to filter and select the “noise” we really want to hear.

    About all we can do is make sure the issue isn’t swept under the carpet of negligence and fatigue. Hang in there my hard of hearing friends. Claim the best seat at the table. Insist that the TV or music be turned down of off. Insist that someone face you when talking to you. It’s your right and it is necessary for your mental health. I’m not sure the law will ever step in to reduce the noise level, but you can intervene on your own behalf. As always, be nice. It goes a long way.

  3. Keep in mind that those of us with hearing loss (mine is moderate, coupled with tinittus) are not the only ones affected by loud noise in public places, particularly sports venues. At a recent college football game, a fan directly behind me with an extremely loud and high-pitched voice made the game extremely painful for me . She was screaming/yelling on almost every play. She and her companion resisted my request that she rein it in, and both became quite angry at my request. The problem was resolved only after many other people in the area voiced their complaints as well and one particularly helpful person had a quiet one on one conversation with the screaming fan.

  4. There should be a better way to amp up a person’s enthusiasm than excessive ambient noise, I agree. However, it seems to be the most popular one presently, at least among the younger people. They often fail to realize the damage due to lack of recruitment and lack of awareness. This brings to mind musicians ear plugs. Perhaps a renewed awareness of the availability of less noticeable deep canal plugs with say 20 db filters would allow for some speech understanding along with the attenuation would be nice. Sure, only the more diligent people would bother, but an awareness campaign wouldn’t hurt at all.

  5. I don’t know about anyone else but my head hurt just reading about this. Then again I doubt it would be a “sporting” event without the yelling and cheering. It’s a two-edged sword. Those of us with hearing loss have to be the proactive ones in protecting ourselves and anyone else who will listen – or can listen with all the racket.

  6. My husband wears hearing aids and the kind of noise you are talking about makes him crazy. His only choice in many cases is to simply turn them off. But, you know what, he copes beautifully and that makes me proud. Sporting events are so much fun for everyone and a harmless way of blowing off steam. Hopefully we never are told to be quiet there.


  7. I don’t attend sporting events. Restaurants are killers for me. Usually a social event and multiple conversations across a table are impossible for me.

  8. I think there should be respect about the noises a person makes at an indoor game. The persons whistling or yelling in your ears need to reconsider how they are making it very inconvenient while watching a game. It makes it less fun!!!

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