In this first episode of a three-part series called Voices, we’re listening to the sound of American football—specifically the role of voices in the NFL. We start with a rather quirky story from NFL history that speaks to how the voice intersects with our ideologies around both disability and gender. It’s about a player whose voice stopped working the way it once did, revealing that football isn’t just a competition between teams on the gridiron—it’s a competition of audibility and vocal toughness. And like the rest of our Voices series, it opens up fascinating questions about what a voice actually is, what it does, and what it means, to us and to those around us.
Our guest is Travis Vogan, a prolific sports media scholar at the University of Iowa. Vogan has written books on ABC Sports, ESPN, boxing movies, and those “voice of God” NFL Films. We also hear briefly from sound scholar Jonathan Sterne, who will feature prominently in an upcoming episode of this Voices series.
Some of this episode is based on the article “The 12th Man: Fan Noise in the Contemporary NFL,” published in Popular Communication by Mack Hagood and Travis Vogan in 2016. If you don’t have institutional access, you can also find the PDF here.
Other things heard or mentioned in this episode:
“The Wild Story of the 49ers, Steve DeBerg, and a Shoulder-Pad Speaker System,” by Eric Branch, San Francisco Chronicle, September 29, 2020.
“The UNBELIEVABLE Story of Steve DeBerg’s Loudspeaker Shoulder Pads,” by the Pick Six Podcast.