The Kentucky Derby runs tomorrow (YEAHHHHHH HORSE SZN). And aside from the Mint Juleps (spoiler alert — they’re terrible…seriously, try one), the hats, the trainers, the occasional dead horse, and the fact that it’s in Kentucky, the Derby is actually awesome. For a while that awesomeness was simply intrigue—the first leg of the impossible-to-win Triple Crown. Who would win, and could the winner hold up through the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes on its way to the glue factory?
We waited 37 years for a horse to successfully run that gauntlet. American Pharaoh claimed the Crown in 2015, followed suspiciously quickly by another Bob Baffert horse, Justify, in 2018. WHAT ARE YOU FEEDING YOUR HORSES, BOB? Everyone’s winning the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing nowadays, but another Derby week is here and I’m still jacked. Why? Because horse racing sounds fucking awesome. The starting gate, the bell, Aaaaand They’re Off!
If the thunder of 20 colts sprinting down the final stretch doesn’t move you, go to therapy and figure out who hurt you. There are other reasons to love the Derby, too: it’s the OG of sports betting, and, of course, horse names (Larry Collmus’s call of Mywifenosevrything and Thewifedoesntknow will live in my head for all time). And so I wondered: do other sports sound as good as horse racing? See where it falls on this list of sports, ranked by their sounds:
Five years ago, NASCAR toyed with the idea of making its cars quieter, not to protect our ears, but in order to, I shit you not, target “millenials, who place heavy importance on the social experience of attending sporting events.” NASCAR fans everywhere clutched their
Confederate flags pearls in horror.
A single car in the pit can reach 130dB, and an entire NASCAR race can sustain 100dB levels for three hours. I figure the Venn diagram of NASCAR fans and people who think earplugs are for pussies is a near perfect circle, so if you’re a hearing-loss specialist south of the Mason-Dixon Line, business is a-boomin’. At least the cars drown out racial slurs.
There was a time when kids would put cards in their bicycle spokes to make them sound like, I don’t know, motors? If Tour de France won’t allow doping, can it at least require this? Because my interest in post-Armstrong cycling and the sound of bicycle races is the same: nonexistent.
I mean, splashing, sure. But if Michael Phelps swims alone, does he even make a sound?
There are precisely two soccer sounds: riots, and the agonized moans of players with pretend injuries. I can’t wait for the World Cup. Whatever happened to Vuvuzelas?
This is not a sport. Some may disagree, but just because athletic feats are performed doesn’t mean it’s a sport.
This is a sport when not it’s cheering for other sports, and not just because you’re more likely to get hurt at a cheerleading competition than in the octagon:
A study conducted by The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (NCCSIR) found that collegiate cheerleading accounted for 70.5% of all female catastrophic sports injuries and high school cheerleading for 65.2% of all high school female sports injuries.NeuLife Rehab
It’s unfair to consider the music that accompanies these routines—and without that it’s just three-dozen jumping, clapping, shouting teenagers. Chaos for the eyes and the ears.
IT’S COMPETITIVE, GUYS. Hear me out: speed chess. Tap, tap, clock, tap, tap, clock.
Again, does it hold up without music? Tap Dance and Riverdance: hell yes.
19. Competitive Eating
I get into more fights with family members over chewing volume than politics. Eating competitions are as hard to listen to as they are to watch.
There are 10 gymnastics events—six in men’s and four in women’s. Only two sound interesting, and they are the same event: vault. Slap that vault and stick that landing.
Fencing stopped being awesome when the people who lost stopped dying, but there are still swords, which counts for something—even if those swords sound like a street duel with broken car antennas.
I always thought cricket looked like a shittier version of baseball. Turns out it also sounds like a shittier version of baseball.
Other than a terrifying-but-spectacular All Blacks Haka, for the most part Rugby sounds like an unpadded NFL practice with Australian accents, which is why my wife calls it Sexy Football.
14. Track and Field
A gun shot followed by the sound of desperate sprinting is America’s true pastime.
Maybe the Cinderella story of this list. There’s just something that works about the delicate clack of mechanical keyboards… and the faint sound of suckling from inverted bottles of Mountain Dew, like a bunch of nerdy hamsters with carpal tunnel.
Can we all agree to reserve grunting for exceptional displays of strength? Off the top of my head, giving birth, passing kidney stones, or taking a long-overdue shit seem appropriate. Hitting a two-ounce ball with a ten-ounce racket is none of those things, yet tennis players are among the world’s most prodigious grunters. No competitive advantage can possibly justify a borderline scream at each volley.
11. Pool & Billiards
The break shot in pool is a top-tier sports sound, but it doesn’t happen enough to vault pool into the top 10. Every other sound of pool is just a tad gentle and underwhelming. Though there’s nothing like finding an open pool table at a bar and chalking up that cue while everyone in the room thinks you’re a fucking shark—until you completely whiff on your break.
MORE GUNSHOTS, BABY. Unfortunately, competitive marksmen aren’t out there skeet shooting with Uzis, so this is less about the sound of the gun and more about how fucking lit a clay pigeon sounds when it explodes.
The sound of a net absolutely cracking from a high-velocity swish is enough to earn basketball the top spot on this list. Hell, I would listen to basketball ASMR if a swish were the sport’s only sound. But every other basketball sound is brutal, which makes it by far the worst of the four major sports to listen to.
Try going to a basketball game hungover and see how long you last. The dribbling is bad, but the screeching of shoes is agonizing—it’s only gotten worse, too, thanks to courtside traction mats. Whoever lobbied for floor-level microphones is a goddamn sadist.
8. MMA & Boxing
The sounds of hand-to-hand combat are so fucking savage. Listen to this shit. You can HEAR the traumatic brain injuries.
The Wzzzzzz of a long cast is goddamn iconic. It’s one of my favorite sounds in general. It might be fishing’s only sound, but that’s kind of the fucking point. This is the 21st century—you’re not going hungry if the Crappie aren’t biting. There’s no reason to fish other than to drink, be alone, and be quiet. Even if you don’t fish alone, you can’t risk talking—you’ll scare the fish, or accidentally share a real human emotion with your only friend. Be a man and bottle that shit up.
NFL Films exists, in part, because football sounds incredible. And it sounded even better before football players started getting head injuries (which is somehow also Will Smith’s fault). Shoulder pads are a brilliant instrument—they offer an infinite combination of sounds. Like a violent snowflake, every collision is unique. My favorite Sunday tradition is when a NFL production crew replays a monster hit at game speed, just so viewers at home can experience the sound of a human skull fracturing at field level.
5. Horse Racing
(See above.) And unlike track and field, if a horse sprains an ankle, we all get to hear a gunshot AFTER the race as well as before. Neat.
The MLB is a nostalgia factory. Years of watching movies* like Ken Burns’ Baseball and The Sandlot and Field of Dreams have programmed me to miss my daddy when I hear the crack of a bat. Baseball’s roster of sounds runs deep, too—popping mitts, crunching of the dirt, organ music, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame?” THE SPIN OF A GODDAMN BREAKING BALL. Sure, games are long, but that just gives us more time for cup snakes.
*Shoutout to Little Big League—even Hollywood wouldn’t let a Minnesota team make the playoffs, let alone win a championship.
My favorite scene in any movie, period, is this one from the The Mighty Ducks. Gordon Bombay gets a new pair of skates from Hans and rediscovers his love of hockey. It’s 57 seconds of pure erotica more sensual than Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” music video. That this didn’t win an Oscar for sound editing is fucking criminal. And it’s just tight turns and hockey stops—no puck drops or slap shots or checks or fighting (all top-notch sounds in their own right), and I am still captivated. Even the sound of hitting the pipe is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. If only I could stay awake to hear any of it.
Have you ever thought about why the best naps are Sunday-afternoon, final-day-of-a-major golf naps? Even if Jim Nantz weren’t whispering sweet, sweet links commentary into your ear in low, pleasing, sexy baritone, the sound of a golf club being repeatedly whipped around at 115 mph, lacing shots off the sweet spot is just [chef’s kiss]. Obviously golf does not sound this way when I play, but a quadruple bogey and a birdie sound the same when they hit the bottom of the cup.
You won, Pinheads. Celebrate like Pete Weber. Heaven is a crowded bowling alley. The slow crescendo of a ball rolling down the lane and the orgasmic explosion of pins, all backed by the steady rhythm of pinsetters and the low hum of a ball return—ITS A FUCKING SYMPHONY. Can someone lobby the Calm App to add bowling alley sounds to its lineup of white noise channels?