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The Sports Bra Is a Bar That Plays One Thing: Women's Sports

The lesbian-owned Portland sports bar wants to redefine what a traditional sports bar looks like by providing a safe and empowering space for female and LGBTQ fans.

Maybe you’ve run into this problem over the years: you want to catch some of the biggest female sports stars compete – only there’s nowhere to actually watch these games.
 
That was the issue Portland native Jenny Nguyen, a sports fan and former basketball player, kept running into, so she decided to create a solution: the Sports Bra.
 
The Sports Bra opened in Portland, Oregon in April 2022 and shows only women’s sports. It’s a place to elevate and empower women athletes  while addressing a much larger issue of representation and equality in sports. 

Recently LX News storyteller Ngozi Ekeledo chatted with Nguyen about the Sports Bra, the bar’s mission and how Nguyen hopes to provide equity and inclusion in sports for women and LGBTQ people.
 
The following interview was lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
 
NGOZI EKELEDO: Can you tell me what the Sports Bra is?
 
JENNY NGUYEN: The Sports Bra is really just a sports bar that is focused on women's sports – so supporting, empowering and promoting women in sports.
 
I want people to walk in and just feel like it's a very familiar, traditional sports bar, but that when they look around or pay attention, it's women's sports on TV.

NGOZI: What gave you this idea to start the Sports Bra?
 
JENNY NGUYEN: The idea behind the Sports Bra really came to fruition back in 2018 when a group of friends of mine and I went out to go out and watch the NCAA Women's championship for basketball. And, you know, we go into this your regular sports bar, and there's probably thirty-two TVs, and none of them have the game on.
 
I had gotten so accustomed to watching women's sports in such a compromised way. Right then I had said, like, out of frustration, 'You know, the only way we're ever going to watch a women's sports game in public is if we had our own place.' It was really just a comment I made out of frustration, and then the next day, I think I was just thinking about, 'Okay, if we did have our own place, what would we be called?' And, you know, the first thing that popped in my mind was the Sports Bra, and it just made sense, and it kind of stuck.
 
NGOZI: What was the grand opening like? What was that experience like for you?

JENNY NGUYEN: So the grand opening at the Sports Bra, I mean, I almost feel like I had to have an out of body experience during that whole weekend.
 
People walked into the space and just burst into tears. I had women who were athletes in Oregon when Title IX passed, and they came through the doors. They were one of the first groups of people through the doors, and they had just the most amazing stories to share. There is this sense of community and this, like, palpable feeling of belonging that happened as soon as the doors opened.

NGOZI: The Sports Bra is also unique in the décor you’ve chosen. What’s been the response from customers, on that front?
 
JENNY NGUYEN: Some of the things that people noticed right away about the Sports Bra is, you know, again, we have jerseys and flags, pennants and posters – all the same things you would see at your regular sports bar – but they're all women
 
Being able to see powerful women athletes on the walls should be normalized. Serena Williams should be a poster on every sports bar's wall in my opinion, and I think that the change for women's sports and equity in sports is at a turning point. In the last couple of years, we've seen so many things happening that it's on a trajectory that is unlike the past – which is amazing.
 
NGOZI: That's pretty awesome. So this idea for you formed in 2018, but your background prior to that is in restaurants and sports as a former basketball player. What’s it been like having these two worlds collide?
 
JENNY NGUYEN: I like to joke that I put down the baby bottle and picked up a basketball because for as long as I remember, I had a basketball in my hands. People knew me as an athlete before they knew me as anything else, and then my first year in college, I ruptured my ACL and that kind of made me rethink what I wanted to do with my life.
 
[Growing up], my mom had made every single meal for me, and so when I went away to college, the food and all of those things just left a lot to be desired. And so I started cooking for myself, and that's kind of how I started, and then I realized that I had this great passion for cooking. The same feeling I got when I was in the kitchen was the same feeling I got when I was on a basketball court.

My professional career has been in kitchens. I started out as a prep cook and then worked my way all the way up to being an executive chef, and so, yeah, the marriage of basketball and sports and food with the Sports Bra has been — it's almost too perfect.
 
NGOZI: Have you heard from any athletes about the Sports Bra? What’s been the response from the community?

JENNY NGUYEN: The support from the community — outpouring of support from everywhere local and international — has been unbelievable.
 
Portland is my hometown. I was born and raised here in Portland. So being able to open a place like the Sports Bra here in my hometown has been one of the most impactful things for me, personally. There's been a couple of [Portland] Thorns players that have, you know, just congratulated me and said that this is a space that has definitely been needed. But I did hear through the grapevine that Sue Bird mentioned the Sports Bra on a podcast at some point, and then coach Sheryl Reeves also mentioned the Sports Bra on a podcast, so that's pretty rad.
 
NGOZI: What do you hope the future of the Sports Bra looks like?
 
JENNY NGUYEN: My loftiest goal [is] to franchise and or expand nationwide. It's really become apparent to me that this concept and this mission resonates with so many people because it's so much more than just sports.

There's so many things about sports bars that just don't feel like it's meant for everybody. When you talk to people, it's such a common experience going into a sports bar and the least of the issues really is getting the channel changed. I mean, there's other things like feeling safe or feeling seen or feeling represented, and so I think that the Sports Bra kind of sees that and is reaching to fill everything that we want a sports bar to be.