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.”