The 12th Man: Is Crowd Noise Cool or Unsportsmanlike?

Sound meter showing Kansas City Chiefs' crowd noise at 147.57

KC Chiefs crowd breaks outdoor stadium noise record Oct. 13, 2013 at 137.57.

A colleague forwarded a news story about the Kansas City Chiefs’ fans breaking the outdoor-stadium crowd-noise record yesterday with the question: “Dubious accomplishment or unsportsmanlike?” As a long-time sportswriter, I’ve penned more than a few hundred words about this subject over the years. Periodically, I re-think it and I keep coming to the same conclusion: there’s nothing unsportsmanlike about it. While I think the latest trend of having Guinness Book of World Records officials on-hand to measure the noise and certify its volume is more than a tad weird, I can’t condemn the fans or the teams.

Crowd noise is just another playing condition — like cold, snow, heat, rain, long grass, or streakers — under which teams must from time to time play and to which they must learn to adjust. If it were illegal, e.g., for a crowd to make loud noise in some stadiums but not others, maybe — but only maybe — you could make a case for penalizing it or outlawing it league-wide.

is it cool for some teams to engineer stadiums to increase the effect of extra-loud screaming on the players on the field? You betcha. (Sorry, Ms. Half-Term Governor!) It’s good for the fans, who feel like they are really part of their teams’ season, and it’s good for TV (though their sound folks need to learn to cope with it better) because it increases the sense of “there” for viewers.

Sure, there are times — like last weekend in Seattle when the infamous 12th man up north contributed to my Niners’ poor performance and accompanying defeat — when I wish I could conjure a good argument for banning or penalizing it. But in the final analysis, it’s just more great fun on the sporting scene.

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