Belmont players: Coach was fired for planned pregnancy with same-sex partner

Friday, December 3, 2010 at 2:54pm

Members of the Belmont women’s soccer team say their coach did not resign but was dismissed from her post.

Belmont athletics director Mike Strickland said in a statement on Thursday night that head coach Lisa Howe “had informed the university of her intent to conclude her employment with Belmont.” The announcement came more than a week after Howe informed the team she was going to have a child with her same-sex partner.

Belmont senior Erica Carter said she talked to Howe on Tuesday, and her coach said she was told “because her morals and values and her decision did not coincide with Belmont’s morals and values, she could no longer be an employee of the institution.”

“She was fired. She was let go,” junior captain Sari Lin said Friday. “We are all under the impression that she was asked to resign and she told them she would think about it. When she didn’t [resign], they basically decided to let her go, and they were going to originally do that without any sort of severance or package. Then they actually did decide to give her some sort of settlement to basically keep her quiet.”

An email and a message left on Howe’s work phone were not immediately returned. 

Messages left for Strickland on Friday morning were not returned. A spokesperson for the athletics department said through a text message that the statement Strickland released on Thursday night was “Strickland’s statement at this time.”

Strickland, assistant athletic director Betty Wiseman and assistant soccer coach Kyle Roelke held a meeting with members of the team Friday morning. Lin said seniors were not allowed to attend and called the meeting “absolutely pointless.”

“[Strickland] came in extremely defensive, told us right off the bat that he couldn’t answer any questions pertaining to Lisa and the situation,” Lin said. “Even when I asked him about the statement that Belmont released [Thursday] night, he still said that he could not answer these questions due to the fairness and respect for Lisa. We all just started kind of laughing, like ‘Are you seriously going to choose those words?’ Out of the fairness and respect for our coach that you fired for wanting to start a family?”

Carter said Howe had gone to Belmont administrators for permission to let the team know of her partner’s pregnancy. Carter and Lin both said Howe had never addressed her sexual orientation to the team before last week.

“She waited three weeks for feedback, and because [her partner] was starting to show and people were starting to find out on their own, she went and told us without feedback,” Carter said. “She told us because she felt like all we did was hear about her life from other sources and rumors, and that wasn’t fair. So she should have the chance to tell us something on her own for once.”

Howe was Belmont’s soccer coach for the last six seasons, and she compiled a 52-48-16 record. She was named the Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year in 2009 after leading the Bruins to a 10-6-4 mark and in a tie for first place in the conference.

In addition to the success on the field, the team recently earned its sixth straight NSCAA College Women’s Team Academic Award, which is awarded to those who have a team GPA of at least 3.0.

“Everyone is really ticked off,” Carter said. “There have been tons of letters, angry letters sent out to all sorts of people, especially the athletic director, [Belmont president Robert] Fisher and anyone you can think of — from parents and students. They are very angry letters.”

The Tennessee Human Rights Act covers employment discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, sex, age or national origin but does not protect on the basis of sexual orientation.

“Our coach has been nothing but phenomenal throughout my experiences playing for her,” Lin said. “When I was told I was in utter shock — absolute disbelief. ... The thing that is hard for us is we are being told a bunch of different things. There are a bunch of different things out in the paper. We just want answers. We want to know who made the final decision to do this, to basically let our coach go. No one has been really able to step up and accept responsibility or do anything like that.

“It is so shameful. ... I don’t think they thought this one out very much.”

8 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 12/3/10 at 4:23

I like the part of this story wherein the departing coach got a severance packaage. Without the severance package this could have turned into a nasty nasty situation.

By: NewYorker1 on 12/3/10 at 5:05

Wow.... I will NEVER step foot on Belmont's campus. And being a business owner, I will NEVER employ a graduate from this university since their morals and values does not coincide with mine. I'm also very disappointed with the coach for not pursuing legal actions against Belmont University for discrimination. She should set an example for others and blaze a trail for future gay and lesbian staff. What in the HELL does her having a baby and starting a family have to do with Belmont? I don't get it.

By: slingshot37091 on 12/3/10 at 5:28

That is the most ridiculous thing i have ever heard!!! What does her being a lesbian or a gay person have to do with her being the coach, that had a winning record may i add! The parents and students should come together and leave the school or give them a choice! What is America coming to? I dont hang out with gays, and dont associate with them, but I am a firm believer in America, and what ever she and her partner decide to do, is thier business. Thats what makes us America, so that we can choose who we want and how we want it! Most stupid act I have ever read!!!

By: cookeville on 12/3/10 at 5:28

Fear is a powerful force. Love has a hard time getting through. But Love is all there is. We just don't want to know that. So we attack and fear and get all out of sorts because we can't stand the thought of someone not following OUR path, not knowing that OUR path is no better than any other because without Love, they all lead to nowhere. And so the good people at Belmont have chosen fear and are no happier than they were and will be no better off for having gotten rid of the coach. But they are all saying to themselves and each other that she is IMMORAL and didn't deserve to have such a good job. The fact that her child will be LOVED and guided to be a loving person has escaped them because their fear is so great. so sad

By: dudette on 12/3/10 at 5:43

No, you don't get it NewYorker1...do your homework! Do you know anything about Belmont University. Look up their website. She/he did. More than likely she/he signed a morality contract or code of conduct. She/he knew what it was signing up for when she/he joined Belmont. It's a private school with probably no or little federal funding. That's the beautiful thing out our country. The government doesn't control everything. Wonder why she kept it quiet for so long? Think maybe she knew. A discrimination path would be tough.Don't feel bad for the couple. There are plenty of state universities that will hire she/he, especially with a phenomenal record. Belmont will hire another coach that is in line with their principles and all will be right. Applaud to Belmont for the moral courage to stand u for their principles. Don't set foot on the campus. Don't hire any of the students. You and everyone else will be happy. Know your consumer...basic marketing principle.

By: dogmrb on 12/3/10 at 7:48

@dudette: given your name, I probably know a lot more about Belmont "University" than you. Belmont College has been going through amazing growth pains the last 10 years and it's clear their student body is more diverse, geographically and philosophically, than the administration, alumni and big donors. The students reflect the future and many are not judgmental about personal lifestyles. Belmont is between a rock and a hard place. Too bad. Change is the only constant in this world.

By: dargent7 on 12/3/10 at 11:00

"dudette" is right on.
Like Lipscomb, American Bible University, et. al., these institutions simply cannot have a lesbian employee (couple) bearing children.
It's like allowing gays in the Boy Scouts. Gays in the priesthood. Gays in the military.

By: courier37027 on 12/7/10 at 11:36

Belmont likely has a morals clause for their employees. In the early 80's two professors were dismissed for drinking wine at lunch. Apparently this act was in conflict with then-TN Baptist Association and/or Belmont rules. I am guessing something related to a morals or behavior clause exists with employees, and especially for coaches.

Like Notre Dame dismissing and paying settlement to fired football coach Charlie Weis, Belmont is also a private university. Does anyone know exactly what Weis was paid tpo leave Notre Dame? Unless a lawsuit stems from this Belmont firing/resignation/cessation of employment, expect former coach and her former employer both to remain quiet. Settelement probably has language to that effect: everyone stays quiet, checks get cashed, go your separate ways. A lawsuit would change that silence, of course.