Every week in her Good Form column, Natalie Weiner explores the ways in which the sports world’s structural inequalities and injustices illuminate those outside it — and the ways in which they’re inextricably connected. You can read previous columns here.
When I Google “women’s sports bar” from my home in Dallas, you might be able to guess what comes up. Knockouts, Tight Ends, Wild Pitch, Bombones — not to mention standbys like Twin Peaks and Hooters — combine to offer DFW a veritable glut of options for the not-too-discerning, presumed cis-male sports fan who likes a side of T&A with his Sunday football slate or NBA playoff games. It’s one of those phenomena that’s really more embarrassing for those who choose to partake than anyone else; obviously I sympathize with women who prefer to profit from the objectification they’re subject to regardless. Tip well and keep your hands to yourself, etc.
All that is to say the “women’s sports bar” options where I live, and where most people live, are almost the opposite of the idyll that I’ve long envisioned: a bar where women’s sports are shown on the big screen with the sound on, regardless of what men’s sports might be on simultaneously.
For (mostly pre-pandemic) years, I have pleaded with servers who have plenty of better things to do to try to locate an NCAA women’s basketball or WNBA game on whatever arcane channel they’ve been relegated to. Softball? Forget about it, with the possible exception of the Women’s College World Series. While I was still in New York, I tried to create a group called the Resolutes to gather and watch women’s sports in bars around the city. It offered some community, and was certainly a good time, but still ultimately was small fry by comparison to the kind of place where I would have loved to watch sports.
That’s why I was so thrilled when a friend sent me a story about a woman who is working to open a sports bar specifically for women’s sports in Portland. It will be called The Sports Bra — A+ word play, and a great (if likely unintentional) rebuke to all of those bars where women in bras (not playing sports) are the main attraction. Jenny Nguyen, founder of the Sports Bra, is a longtime basketball player and fan. As she puts it, her inspiration for the bar came while watching the 2018 NCAA women’s basketball championship — you know, the one where Arike Ogunbowale hit one of the best buzzer beaters in basketball history — on a small TV in the corner of a local sports bar, without the sound on.
“There we were, a group of a dozen women, at a local sports bar,” she writes on the bar’s Kickstarter page. “We grabbed a few tables and slid them together and got the server to switch one of the TVs to the big game for us. We ordered food and drinks and proceeded to watch what would be one of the best games in NCAA history. And when it was all over, we realized we watched the whole thing on a tiny TV in the corner of the bar with no sound on.”
Nguyen, who is a chef with plenty of experience in the food service industry, is aiming to stock the menu and bar with products from woman-owned businesses and makers — an admirable extension of her core mission to amplify the work and talents of women athletes. The Sports Bra might be the first women’s sports-centric sports bar, but as we have discussed so often in this column, that’s not really what’s important.
What’s exciting is that there will be a hopefully sustainable space for people to watch women play sports; where they will be the default, not the exception. It won’t be a big deal, there won’t be random people saying, “Whoa, they’re actually pretty good.” If the bar lives up to its mission, it will provide a welcoming space that grows from the best, most inclusive part of women’s sports (and all sports). Hopefully it will not remain a newsworthy novelty, and instead inspire replicas around the country — if anyone wants to collaborate on a DFW version, hit me up.