Blackhawks PR Manager Anthony Filomena is all smiles as he celebrates the team's Pride Night. | Courtesy of Anthony Filomena

Content warning: This story contains mention of sexual assault.

Like many, Anthony Filomena reassessed his career and life priorities after 2020. He’d been working in public relations for several years and was content. Yet he couldn’t escape the feeling that something was missing.

Then during a random LinkedIn search in 2022, he saw that the Chicago Blackhawks were looking to hire a new PR manager. Instantly, he knew this job would mean something more substantial.

Filomena landed the gig with the Blackhawks that July, rekindling an emotional connection to his Chicago sports fandom and his experiences in youth hockey.

Growing up in Chicago’s southwest suburbs, Filomena played in floor hockey leagues from fourth grade through senior year of high school. He initially joined to impress his older brother. But after a couple of years, he found a role that gave him a home in the sport.

“It took me until middle school to realize, ‘Oh, this is actually fun’ and I don’t have to be scared anymore,” he remembered. “And I realized I liked being on defense versus offense, and I became really good at it.”

Youth hockey player poses for a photo
Anthony Filomena strikes a pose during his youth hockey days.
Photo courtesy of Anthony Filomena

Deep down, Filomena also knew that he was gay. But he didn’t begin to acknowledge this aspect of his identity until his late teens. It didn’t help matters that he was being raised in a heavily Catholic area. When he played hockey, he heard teammates say hurtful things.

“There’s certain word choices that are used — phrases, expressions — and you just don’t want to be on the other side of that. So to hear what they’re saying about other people or teams we’re playing or guys that they really knew were out or gay, it’s very disheartening to see that,” he said.

Between the homophobic language and the environment he grew up in, Filomena felt that nothing good could happen if he came out.

While he remained in the closet, his peers talked behind his back and spread rumors about his sexuality. Then after Filomena confided that he was gay to a few peers he thought he could trust, he got outed.

After this traumatic experience, Filomena struggled with his identity and mental health. It wasn’t until his early 20s that he began accepting who he was.

Just before the summer of 2015, Filomena got a tattoo of the Human Rights Campaign’s equality logo. It was a declaration that he was going to be more upfront about his sexuality.

“If I’m going to get this tattoo permanently on my body — and this was before we knew gay marriage was going to be legal — I’m ready to face whatever people think,” he stated.

Filomena has found a place in sports where he can feel uplifted as his true self with the Blackhawks.
Photo courtesy of Anthony Filomena

At that time, he believed sports belonged to the world that made his life painful and he continued to dissociate from them. But later when Filomena landed the job with the Blackhawks, he rediscovered that passion in an environment that accepted him as his true self.

He met several LGBTQ co-workers who welcomed him with open arms. Shortly after that, the Hawks assigned Filomena to be lead PR manager for their “Home Away From Home” game in Milwaukee. He oversaw the announcement news conference and when it went off successfully, he felt a sense of confidence and trust from the team.

This season, he partnered with his LGBTQ peers to set up Blackhawks Pride Night and found the experience uplifting and inspirational. 

Filomena coordinated with Chicago-based LGBTQ-owned small businesses to set up a bazaar at the United Center. He also brought LGBTQ influencers to the game, some of who were seeing pro hockey in person for the first time and found themselves hooked by the speed and action of the sport.

“Being born and raised in Chicago, watching the team, there were no Pride Nights back then. So to be a part of the team who curated a really great experience for the community and allies and just helped move the needle a little forward, I was blown away. I don’t really have words,” he said.

Filomena marches with the Blackhawks contingent in the Chicago Pride Parade.
Photo courtesy of Anthony Filomena

When Filomena interviewed with the Blackhawks, there was another deeply serious topic that they needed to address.

During the previous year, the hockey world learned how the team covered up the alleged sexual assault of defenseman Kyle Beach by their video coach during the 2010 Stanley Cup season. Everyone involved in the cover up no longer worked for the Hawks, and Filomena wanted to find out where the organization stood before he took the job.

“After meeting the leadership that was put in place since then, [it] was very different. I can say the people that I interviewed with and the people who are there now…they gave me so much confidence and reassurance that they are ready to be transparent and do what’s right to make this city proud of them again, and I had no hesitation that they meant otherwise,” he said.

“On a personal level, I’ve also experienced that so I know the severity of what it means for someone to go through that. It’s a lot to wrap your mind around. So knowing those two things on a personal level and the leadership today, it didn’t make me [worry] that I was making the wrong [decision],” he added.

Going forward, Filomena is excited about the prospect of running PR as the Hawks build around hockey wunderkind Connor Bedard and return to contention in the years ahead. He also hopes to become a face of LGBTQ representation in the sports world, so that the next generation can find someone like them in it.

“I ran from sports because I didn’t think I belonged,” he admitted, “So now that I have a job doing great work with a great team doing these things, I’m just trying to make it so a future little Anthony out there can see himself and be like, ‘He can do it. I can do it too.’”