In April 2022, Jenny Nguyen of Portland, Oregon, opened the LGBTQ-friendly Sports Bra, the world’s first sports bar dedicated to showing only women’s sports, in her hometown. The truth is, women make up 40% of all athletes, yet men’s sports account for 96% of broadcasts. By the age of 14, young women will drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys. It takes 350 WNBA salaries to match the amount Steph Curry makes.
Despite the depressing stats, women move forward. The Sports Bra inspired Seattle’s first women’s sports bar, Rough & Tumble, which opened in December. Nguyen is unofficially consulting with business owners who are interested in opening more women’s sports bars. In 2030, Portland is slated to host the women’s NCAA Final Four. Recently, Ally Financial and Disney announced a partnership to invest in women’s sports. In this edition of Voices In Food, Nguyen told Garin Pirnia about the need for queer spaces, the positive effects of supporting trans athletes, the push for equity and parity in sports, and how she believes women’s sports will “blow up.”
Originally when I had opened the Sports Bra, I thought that I was kind of fitting a small niche of folks, hardcore women’s sports fans. But what ended up happening, almost even before we opened our doors, was this gigantic outpouring of support from all over the place — not just here in Portland, but globally. All of my expectations, my hopes, dreams and desires that I’ve ever wanted for the Sports Bra, were surpassed by the first month of being open. It has been so much larger and more impactful than I could have ever wanted or thought that it would be. It’s been shocking to me. I’d love to see how the Sports Bra evolves in the next several years, because I feel like ever since we opened the doors, every single day has been a surprise to me.
The biggest thing that I was not prepared for was how much a space [like] the Sports Bra resonated with so many people on so many different levels, and for so many different reasons. The intersectionality of a space like this opened a web of intersections that I had never imagined. The cross section of where women and sports align is the big bang, where everything comes together and explodes from there.
Over the course of the last eight months, I’ve gotten a handful of emails from guys who have written to me out of their own accord and wrote something to the effect of, “When you guys first opened, I thought it was a joke and thought it was not going to last, or not going to be taken seriously.” They had negative feelings about it ― but they did the work of talking to the women in their lives, and realized there’s an entire reality that they weren’t aware of. I think that’s very unusual. Those things stick out in my mind as a big indicator of why things like this are important.
“Investing in women’s sports will never be cheaper than right now ... The sooner people get on board, the faster this whole train will go.”
A part of me feels like the goal is to have equity and parity on TV, and that would be reflected in all the spaces showing women’s and men’s sports equally. But I also think about the disappearance of queer spaces in America over the last 20 years. The reality is, people love to have spaces where they feel like they belong, or that belong to them. When and if there is parity and equity in women’s sports representation on TV, and all bars will be showing men’s and women’s sports equally ... there may still be a place for places like the Sports Bra, where it is a dedicated space because of that special, unique feeling.
The attack on trans athletes is so baseless when we’re talking about sports and how fearmongering it is, and then the impacts that it has on young children and young adults and adults and sports. Needless to say, sports have a dramatically positive impact on people’s lives from a very young age all the way through adulthood. It permeates every aspect of their life, from the partners that they choose to be with to their career choices, or how successful they are in friendships and in their careers. When you are excluding trans athletes from sports, you’re denying them the ability to develop these important traits and characteristics that sports creates in people. It’s not just not seeing them as human beings, but also not giving them the opportunities that literally every cis boy has. I have a lot of feelings about it.
There’s been a dramatic change in the growth of women’s sports over the last several years. I think we’re just going to continue to see all of those things happen at a much, much greater clip. It’s rarely huge dramatic things that make a big difference ― it’s like a million little steps that make a big difference. When we think about this huge issue of inequity in investment pay and hiring women, it’s almost mind-boggling to think, “What can we do about it?” But if everybody took baby steps, from people who are doing the hiring to opening your awareness to the inequities, that’s going to change what happens next.
People are constantly saying this, but investing in women’s sports will never be cheaper than right now. Because in two weeks it’s going to be worth more, no matter what. The sooner people get on board, the faster this whole train will go. The way capitalism works is, it takes money to make money. The investments from gigantic companies like Ally Financial and Disney matter, just as much as if you’re a hiring manager or who’s coaching your fourth grade YMCA.
Maybe I’m biased, but when I read men’s sports news, it is absolutely fraught with negative press, like domestic violence cases, abuse allegations, DUIs ― hordes and hordes of ridiculous things. I’m not saying that women’s sports is pure, but there’s a foundational difference with the rise of women’s sports through representation, investment and the intersectionality of what it means to be a female athlete. It’s so different from men’s sports, and it really resonates with so many people on such a great level that it’s going to blow up.
We’ve come a long way since Title IX passed 50 years ago. But those systems ― systemic racism, systemic sexism, a patriarchal society — don’t unravel in a few decades. It takes time, but I think things are momentously shifting from the last few years onward. We’re going to continue to see a rise and dominance of girls and women in sports. I honestly think that in 10 years from now, it will surpass men’s sports in popularity. I truly believe it.