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The Sports Bra is the spot to watch women's sports in Portland

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Look at players' salaries, and you can see that women's sports aren't valued as much as men's. Go to a typical sports bar, and you'll see the same. It's sort of an unspoken rule that sports bars feature men's sports, but that's not the case at a new bar in Portland, Ore. Deena Prichep reports from The Sports Bra.

DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: It's a Thursday night, and The Sports Bra is packed.

DEB CASTEL: I walked through the door about 20 minutes ago, and I actually got some goose bumps.

PRICHEP: Deb Castel says it's not just the fact that each of the five giant televisions is tuned to women's games or the walls are plastered with women's jerseys, trophies, photos. It's also the feeling all of this creates.

CASTEL: I want to look everybody in the eye here. And I just want to be like, are you having a good time? Everybody's having a good time, right?

PRICHEP: Often at sports bars, there's a camaraderie - especially on game night - that everyone is on the same team. And here, that team is women's athletics and equality. The drinks come from women-owned breweries and distilleries, and it's all-ages until 10 p.m. so that kids can see what it looks like when women are front and center.

Over at the bar, Kathy deMartini is just thrilled this place exists.

KATHY DEMARTINI: I grew up playing sports. I grew up playing sports when I was the only girl on the team.

PRICHEP: And when she aged out of the parks and rec league, that was it.

DEMARTINI: So I really love seeing this and seeing so many people excited about it - both men and women.

PRICHEP: The Sports Bra opened last month. Owner Jenny Nguyen says she and her girlfriend spent years joking about the name - because of course - and dreaming up a sort of mythical, supportive place where you'd never have to even ask the bartender to change the channel over to a women's game. So after the pandemic, she decided to make it real. And the response has been overwhelming.

JENNY NGUYEN: Every day, I probably get a couple dozen really heartfelt messages. At the beginning, it was, like, hundreds.

PRICHEP: And not just messages.

NGUYEN: There were days where I would just get FedEx deliveries from people across the country. And it was, like, a signed pair of shoes or, like, an autographed Olympian photograph.

PRICHEP: Nguyen hears from women who had to fight to play sports as girls or helped pave the way for Title IX and from men who say they never realized that most sports bars don't have a single picture of a female athlete, and now they can't not see it. Nguyen says noticing that disparity is the first step to changing it and getting more girls on the field.

NGUYEN: There are so many statistics that show that girls that play sports have just a plethora of benefits - from positive body image to reduced rates of suicide, alcohol abuse, drug abuse. And it goes throughout their whole life.

SARAH BETH LEACH: Just, like, being here and seeing every TV screen - and, like, even walking into the bathroom and, like, seeing all my old heroes and, like, coaches I've looked up to, like, displayed on the walls - like, that's crazy.

PRICHEP: Sarah Beth Leach, who's grabbing a drink with some co-workers, coaches high school basketball. She says her school is committed to equity, but she doesn't have to look far to see teams that struggle to get equal fields and funding.

LEACH: It's great to be a part of the fight all the time, but it's also exhausting to be a female coach trying to fight the fight all the time.

PRICHEP: Leach and the rest of the folks in The Bra, as it's known, love being here because it balances that struggle with celebration and just the joy of sports and the difference it can make.

LEACH: I would not be the person I am today, the teacher I am today, the coach I am today without that experience.

PRICHEP: And the hope is that celebrating women's achievement will also help normalize it so that more girls will try sports. And someday, all sports bars might look a little bit more like The Sports Bra.

For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep in Portland, Ore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.