Why I'm Coming Out Now

Brooklyn Nets

To understand why I’m writing this now, I need to begin with my foundation. I was raised as one of six children in a traditional Puerto Rican household in inner-city Newark, N.J. My brother played basketball in high school, and some of my fondest memories with my family are from outings we’d take to go see him play. This was when I fell in love for the first time — with the sport of basketball.

Fast-forward to college, where I fell in love for the second time — this time with a brilliant, kind, supportive, and beautiful woman. A woman who I am still with today. 

After being outed by a fellow college student to a high school friend, I had to face my conservative Latino family and hope they would accept me for who I was. For being gay. Needless to say, this was the most difficult time in my life.

My first job was in a professional sports organization. From day one, I checked my personal life at the door. I avoided talking about my life outside of work with colleagues and mastered the art of turning the conversation to focus on the other person. If my own family had a hard time, why would strangers working in pro sports accept me? This first foray into the real world was eye-opening in many ways, and the job gave me a sense of purpose — that of knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my career.

In 2010, I landed my dream job as director of marketing for the Nets, where I led the team’s brand transformation from New Jersey to Brooklyn. I strive to be a thought leader and a forward thinker with great attention to detail and a keen eye for talent. Applying those skills and a relentless work ethic, I rose to my current role as chief marketing officer, the protector of the brand. I don’t want my race, gender, or sexual orientation to define my career. I earned my seat at the table based on the quality of my work.

Twenty-five years into my career and after seven years with the Nets, my share-no-details personal mantra has remained the same. To this day, most of my colleagues don’t know that I’m gay, let alone married to a woman who has been my partner in life for 28 years. Until now.

Brooklyn is more than just the borough where the Nets play home games. It is the identity that shapes the Nets’ brand. It is gritty, diverse, cutting-edge, and global. It is inclusive of more than 150 nationalities, and we strive to represent every single one of them.

On January 25, when the Nets take on the Miami Heat at Barclays Center, we will host our first Pride Night to show our fans that we support and embrace them, regardless of gender, race, nationality, or sexual orientation.

On Pride Night, the Nets will celebrate diversity and inclusion, the Brooklyn way. Fans will feel the love from the minute they arrive at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, with Barclays Center proudly lit up in rainbow colors.

We will welcome Jason Collins back to Barclays Center to celebrate with us. After spending eight seasons with the New Jersey Nets in the early 2000s, Jason went on to become the first openly gay athlete to play in any of the four major North American pro sports leagues.

The first team to sign Collins after he came out was the Brooklyn Nets. I was so proud coming to work that day. He is a true role model, and I am honored to stand with him.

We will also be tipping off an ongoing campaign to spread awareness and support for LGBTQ causes by making a donation to the Trevor Project, the inspiring organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.

Professionally, it means a great deal to me to be the organization’s lead on developing and implementing Pride Night, but personally, it’s deeper. It goes beyond the love of basketball.

In his farewell speech last week, President Obama put it best, as he often does, when he said, “Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.”

He is right. In the polarizing political landscape we face today, I feel obligated to share my story. Because now, more than ever, we need a chorus of voices encouraging acceptance, understanding, and unity.

I am standing up, raising my hand, and joining the conversation. I am using my voice not only to demand change but to advocate for LGBTQ respect and inclusion. I am taking action to show anyone who has struggled with their identity that they can achieve their dreams in any profession, in any industry, under any circumstance.

Ultimately, the best part of my job is knowing that at the end of the day, as colleagues and fans, we are not divided by the color of our skin, our sexual orientation, our ethnicity or gender. We are unified by the Nets’ black and white colors, by the team’s shield, by the sound of “BROOOOKLYNNNN” ringing throughout the arena on a game night. 

I hope everyone will join us to celebrate Brooklyn Nets Pride Night at Barclays Center January 25. As a sports team, we have the incredible ability to bring people together. What could be more inspiring?

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ELISA PADILLA is the chief marketing officer for the Brooklyn Nets. For more information on the Nets' Pride Night, go to BrooklynNets.com/pride.

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