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Seahawks Fans Will 'Most Likely' Go Home with Hearing Damage

U. S. Embassy Panama

The Seattle Seahawks will take on San Francisco in the season’s home opener Sunday night, and a fan group wants the crowd to get loud—loud enough to set a world record.

The crowd’s roar is powerful enough to disorient opponents and, famously, register on a nearby seismic monitor. So just imagine what it must sound like from smack in the middle of it.

“It’s really hard to describe the feeling,” said Joe Tafoya, the former Seahawks defensive end who’s helping organize the record attempt.

“It almost feels like you're getting plugged in to a source of energy. You're able to, for whatever reason, jump higher, run faster, make that play that you wouldn’t normally be able to make, that’s just out of reach.”

'Above the Pain Threshold'

But sound that intense doesn’t just energize (or distract) the players. University of Washington audiologist Julie Arenberg Bierer said it can also fry your ears.

“I mean, that’s above the pain threshold. At the very least people are going to have temporary hearing loss. Most likely they’ll have a little bit of permanent hearing loss,” she said.

That’s because there are delicate little hair cells in your inner ear. When a sound wave rolls through, it bends the hair cells, like the breeze blowing through tall grass. A gale-force wind would break some of those blades of grass, and sound waves up above 130 decibels or so do something similar in your ears.

“I would encourage people to at least cover their ears during the few minutes that they’re trying to break the record,” Arenberg Bierer said.

Taking precautions

Of course it gets loud more than once at a Seahawks game, so something a bit more reliable than hands over the ears might be in order. Joe Tafoya’s group plans to hand out 30,000 pairs of earplugs, which generally knock the volume down by 10-20 decibels.

Tafoya said the crowd would be roaring whether or not his group and a Guinness official were there to measure it. He sees the world record as hard evidence for something tough to measure: whose fans are the most passionate.

“Passion happens when you're screaming at the top of your lungs. And we can actually measure that. And I think that the Seahawks fan base deserves this – deserves to be crowned the loudest and the proudest in the world,” Tafoya said.

They may get a little help from Centurylink Field, too. Engineers say its structure tends to amplify sound. On Sunday, we’ll find out if it really is the loudest stadium in the world.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.