I Found A Bar In Chicago That Let Me Watch the WNBA in Public
A true story
It was October in Chicago. My friend Sara and I stepped out of her apartment and into her popular, bar-lined neighborhood with purpose.
“If they can’t do it, we’ll just have to leave,” I said.
Sara nodded. “There’s no other choice.”
That night, we had one goal: to get a drink at a sports bar while watching the do-or-die Chicago Sky playoff game.
That’s right…. we wanted to watch a women’s basketball game. At a bar. In public.
“I mean, they’ll probably have the game on, right?” Sara said.
I’ve been watching the WNBA since it was started in 1997, when I was a seven-year-old girl baller, strangely unafraid. And I’ve made the hour-long trek alone to Rosemont (the Chicago suburb where the Sky play home games) to watch bands of breathtakingly strong female athletes compete — across the way from a restaurant equipment warehouse, in a the stadium pockmarked with fans.
And though 2016 is pretty much the first time I’ve ever heard the WNBA get a compliment, largely because WNBA teams — yes! whole! teams! — have protested racial inequality & police violence against Black Americans with a solidarity unparalleled by any other professional sports league — I was still nervous about asking a bar to change the TV channel to a WNBA game.
Buzzing with adrenaline, Sara and I ducked into a cavernous sports bar. Before I could even check the TV monitors, Sara had asked the bartender, “Excuse me, would you mind changing one of these to ESPN2?”
“What’s on ESPN2?” he said.
“It’s the Chicago Sky playoff game, and….”
The bartender stared back, then got his act together quickly: “I’m sorry, we have trivia tonight, actually, and we need to have the Blackhawks on this TV, and this one, this one, and this one, and this one.” He pointed to all the screens in the bar.
“Hmmm, okay….” said Sara. Is it worth peeking around, I wondered, in case there’s an undesirable corner with a crappy monitor from 1992? That’s where I’ve historically enjoyed a WNBA game in public.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that we have trivia tonight,” the bartender shrugged, almost generously. “It’s just that we just can’t.”
Sara and I spun around and bolted outside.
“What about over there?” Sara pointed to the next sports bar, a little more excited now. We were on a real journey!
Next, we approached the High Dive, a bar known for its insanely good chicken wing special. Now I really hoped this would work — and declared immediately to the bouncer, “So! We want to watch the WNBA, would you guys be willing to put it on the TV?!”
“Oh, I’m down with that, definitely down with that.” said the bouncer guy, who was not actually a bouncer guy at all, but an angel. “But they just wanna watch ‘hockey’ and shit here. You gotta ask the bartender.”
We. found. an. ally.
Sure enough, inside there were a bunch of dudes scattered around the bar, the Blackhawks (pre-season) game shining on all four television monitors.
Then we noticed: the greatest sight we’ve witnessed all night… the bartender. She was a woman!
Sara and I launched at the bar, all at once. “Hey could we — do you think — ESPN2?! Any of the — yes! Over there?! Yes!”
Just ten minutes later (I forgave her, the remote was acting funky), voila! We were watching Chicago’s very own professional women’s basketball team battling with all they’ve got to keep their playoff run alive — all while getting paid a measly salary, decades behind the earnings of players in the NBA.
And yes, the hockey-watching men scoffed and smirked. And yes, I already knew the Sky would get pummeled by the Los Angeles Sparks. And yes, Elena Delle Donne (whose fiancée Amanda Clifton posed for an adorable engagement photo with their dog just before Elena finally came out to Vogue, Yes!!!) was still out of the game with a thumb injury.
I did not care. WE GOT TO DRINK CHEAP BEER AND EAT CHICKEN WINGS AT A BAR WHILE WATCHING WOMEN — MOST OF THEM BLACK AND MANY OF THEM QUEER — COMPETE IN SPORT ON A NATIONALLY OVERRATED, I MEAN BROADCAST, SPORTS NETWORK.
As soon as the server came to take our order, we offered to buy her a shot. She agreed. “To women!!!” we toasted.
It was — I think? — a small, bright victory.