Soundly Rejected: How Your Ears Deceive You

How the sounds around you have been manipulated for your sports enjoyment.

I've become mildly obsessed with the sounds of sports recently, especially how they're manipulated for our benefit. Sure, you've heard rumors about the Indianapolis Colts' magical crowd noise CD, but it's not always so mythical nor so blunt.

For example, if you've attended a Phoenix Suns game when US Airways Center is half-full (so, you know, next season), you may have noticed the Suns have sweetened the rims. There's microphones attached to the backboards that enhance the sound around the basket so you can appreciate the dunks and swishes because merely seeing the shots made has been essentially unsatisfying for decades.

To be fair, the Suns are by no means the only NBA team to do this. To be cruel, there's no need for any NBA team to do this.

Two other cases of sport sound have caught my ear in the last few weeks, reminding us how hard sports organizations and television broadcasters work to create a theme park experience for the sports fan, sanitized to tell the story they want us to hear.

First, the vuvuzela. We have been told the bee-buzzin' noisemaker, traditional to South Africa's fans and made known to the world during soccer's Confederations Cup in 2009, is culturally relevant to the locals at the World Cup and we must suffer the plastic horns gladly. You know, like Thunderstix and the wave. Culturally relevant!

The vuvuala, cultural icon or covering up for empty seats? (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Preserving cultural heritage is lovely and all, but when you hear Sepp Blatter (FIFA chief) talking about respecting other cultures, you know it's not about respecting other cultures. Sepp Blatter, bless his multicultural heart, respects only money. There's no FIFA merchandised horn, but we've seen benefits from having the vuvuzelas in-house for this Cup.

If you've watched most any game not involving a major name team, then you've probably also noticed the occasional accidental crowd shot of no crowd what so ever. Transportation issues, ticket distribution problems, and an utter lack of apathy about New Zealand in South Africa if rugby isn't involved has led to a series of open seats posing as international unity.

If you've listened to most any game not involving a major name team, then you've also noticed how a few thousand noisemakers fill out the crowd sound better for the home viewing audience than you'd expect from the meager attendance. Aural point to Blatter (which sounds like onomatopoeia).

And now the utter absence of sound. You might have thought you had a loose mute button on your remote control during the Suns' long playoff run through TNT and ABC/ESPN's productions. Audio would cut out for 1-2 seconds at a time, occasionally 2-3 times in a row.

However, you didn't let your kids dunk your remote in the peanut butter again. Instead, that's just the NBA, its broadcast partners, and the FCC conspiring to save us from hearing naughty language.

Ron Artest doesn't approve of censorship. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

The FCC doesn't have purview over the TNT/ESPN broadcasts, but that didn't prevent us from being dumped on occasionally by tossing audio when grown men playing for tremendous prestige and playoff checks said dirty words. Still, the most audio cutouts occurred in the NBA Finals on over-the-air broadcasts.

Since the Supreme Court ruled last year that the FCC could fine stations for fleeting expletives, we're now treated to round after round of squeaky-clean audio where no one ever drops an unkind word.

But honestly, wouldn't you prefer to hear the unfiltered Ron Artest? The near-beer version of perhaps the most interesting player in the NBA Finals didn't get anyone nearly as intoxicated.

The government, sports leagues, and television broadcasters have thereby conspired recently to protect us from cussing, given us big plastic horns to play with, and added video game sound effects to our sports so we can appreciate them. If you feel like you're being treated like a child, there's a reason.

Now put away your crowd noise CD; it's time for bed.

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