Former Belmont University women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe said Wednesday a statement within an email message she sent to a co-worker was later used without her knowledge in a release sent by the university announcing her resignation two weeks ago.
Howe, who told her team a week before her departure from Belmont that her same-sex partner was having a baby, said she was unaware the university was going to use that statement in the release. The next day, on Dec. 3, Belmont issued another release, saying that Howe had not resigned but that the two parties had reached a mutual agreement to conclude her employment with the university.
“I was ready to move on because of circumstances beyond my control about which I cannot speak,” Howe said in a statement her attorney Abby Rubenfeld emailed to The City Paper on Wednesday. “I phrased that statement very carefully so [as] not to bring any negative attention to me or Belmont. Then, I sent the statement to a co-worker in the athletic department, not an administrator or a major media publication. I thought I was doing what was best for my future. I did not realize Belmont would use it in the manner that they have.”
Belmont spokesperson Greg Pillon issued the following statement Wednesday night: “Lisa Howe provided the statement to Belmont’s media relations director for women’s sports. We believe we used the statement in the matter in which it was intended.”
When asked last week if that was the first time Howe had heard of her resignation — when the statement on Dec. 2 was released to the media — Rubenfeld said, “That I don’t know.”
“I can’t really talk about any of the details, but she did not resign,” Rubenfeld said. “And the university corrected that error in the second statement that they issued to the press, with our approval, that it was a mutual decision for her to leave.”
Rubenfeld reiterated Wednesday in a phone interview that “there is no resignation letter statement from Lisa Howe because she did not resign.”
Since Howe’s exit, responses from Belmont students, alums and donors, and from Nashville residents and politicians, have grown daily.
On Monday, Metro Councilmen Jamie Hollin and Mike Jameson announced they plan to file an ordinance that would rescind the city’s lease agreement with Belmont University for the use of Rose Park. The proposed bill cites “actions recently taken by Belmont University concerning the termination of the women’s soccer coach, presumably as a result of her sexual orientation” as the reason for rescinding the agreement. In order to use Rose Park under the bill, Belmont would have to put in writing a non-discrimination policy that protects employees based on sexual orientation.
Then on Tuesday, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean sent letters to the chairs of several boards, commissions and authorities asking them to adopt policies to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Dean did not mention Belmont in his letters but sent one to Convention Center Authority chairman Marty Dickens. Dickens, who is also the chairman of Belmont’s board of trustees, made news when he told The Tennessean, “We (Belmont) do adhere to our values as Christ-centered, and we don’t want to make apologies for that.”
“I have never spoken to the mayor but… I am just so encouraged by this issue coming to the forefront and people saying, ‘Yeah, we should not discriminate against all groups, really,’” Howe said on Wednesday. “It is surprising to think that I am a little bit of a catalyst for that. But I do think we are overdue for change or overdue for that wording in our policies. I’m not shocked by it but I am surprised to have a personal role in it.”
Howe, who coached six years at Belmont and had a winning record, said she will be featured in a piece on Sunday that will air on ESPN’s Outside the Lines and will do a talk radio interview on Saturday.
Along with responding to numerous interview requests, Howe said she is going to begin sending her resume for job openings.
“I am looking at some other college soccer jobs and I am looking at stuff within Nashville to try to stay within the area,” Howe said. “I feel like we have a support system to help us start a family and start with a baby. Gosh, the outpouring of support really makes Nashville feel like home. It would be hard to get up and leave.”
Howe said last week that she would consider working at Belmont again if the school offered her job back. As of Wednesday, though, Howe said, “No one from Belmont has reached out to me.”