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Published November 12, 2019

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Noisy football pumps up fans

I went to a football game, and a rock concert broke out

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

Although an unabashed Houston Texans fan, I hadn’t attended a game since a rare spinal cord disorder left me in a wheelchair seven years ago. It’s been easier to cheer them on from my recliner.

But my brother, visiting from California, wanted to see the game between the Texans and the Oakland Raiders. I was more interested in the Astros World Series game later in the day, but, out of brotherly love, I bought Texans tickets for wheelchair seating and also purchased a handicapped parking pass.

Getting in to NRG Stadium went smoothly. A parking attendant directed us to handicapped parking and put out some cones next to the van so I could deploy the ramp without fear of someone parking too close to my van. Inside, a helpful attendant directed us to our seating.

I was ready for some football. But my ears were not.

Over the next four hours, we were bombarded with deafening noises. The volume was on high for bands, singers, and the gigantic video display board. The blaring voice of the public address announcer even encouraged fans to scream their lungs out. I went to a football game … and a rock concert broke out.

People once went to football games to see great players make great runs, passes, catches or blocks. Now fans flock to the stadium for loud in-game entertainment, silly games on the huge video screen, music, food and socializing on the concourses.
I estimate that during the game only about half the seats were filled at any one time. Half the fans were doing something other than watching the game. I wonder how many people saw J.J. sustain a season-ending injury or Deshaun throw a game-winning touchdown pass after being kicked in the face.

One reason for the loud non-football activities at the stadium is that there is now so much downtime in NFL games. The crowd needs to be entertained during all the breaks caused by instant replays, penalties, injuries and television time-outs.

You really don’t realize how much downtime there is in an NFL game when you are sitting at home in a comfortable recliner watching the game on TV while reading the Sunday paper or fixing a snack.

The NFL is fully on board with all the activities and the noise that goes with it. Team owners, general managers and coaches feel that incredible levels of noise are necessary to pump up the crowd to give the home team a competitive advantage.

Fans at several NFL stadiums have even attempted to set noise records. The Kansas City Chiefs and their fans hold the Guinness Book of World Records mark for crowd noise in an outdoor stadium. A Guinness representative registered a level of 142.2 decibels. The engine of a jet airplane at 100 feet is about 135 decibels.

I have no idea what the noise level was at NRG Stadium, but the crowd noise at NFL games averages between 80 and 90 decibels, according to an acoustical consulting firm in Dallas.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) warns that without proper protection, exposure to 85 decibels for more than eight hours could lead to permanent hearing loss. Each time the noise levels increase by three decibels, the recommended exposure time is cut in half.

That is why noise levels in the hundreds are disconcerting to hearing experts. At these levels, it only takes between 1 and 15 minutes for the sound to damage your ears.

Hearing experts say a $10 pair of ear protection earmuffs or more subtle foam earplugs will reduce noise levels by 20 to 30 decibels.

I realize this complaining about the noise makes me sound like the 72-year-old man that I am. Apparently, however, I am in good company.

The New York Knicks conducted a trial during the first half of a basketball game in Madison Square Garden. No music, no videos and no in-game entertainment. The message at Madison Square Garden stated that the quiet would allows fans to “experience the game in its purest form.” An online poll showed that 60 percent of respondents said, “Looks and sounds great! It’s what the game is about.”

Despite having a headache from all the noise, my day ended on a happy note. The Texans won in a thriller. I left the stadium at 6:20 and was home in Pearland in time for the first pitch of the Astros’ game.

I watched it in peace and quiet.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)