Boclair: Uncomfortable silence

Sunday, December 26, 2010 at 10:05pm

Never in 100 years did I imagine I’d come to the following conclusion: Mike Strickland is just as bad as Lane Kiffin. 

Strickland, the Belmont University director of athletics, is an undeniably nice man without any outsized sense of self or all-consuming professional aspirations. He’s in his 15th year at his post and seems completely comfortable to continue for the long haul. 

But his actions in relation to the recent firing/resignation/mutually agreeable departure (it depends on whom you believe) of women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe lead to the inevitable comparison with the former University of Tennessee football coach. 

Strickland has hidden behind press releases — some of which, by the way, were only available by request. He’s refused to answer questions from the media or even the players who were directly affected by what took place. It was obvious from the get-go that he and the rest of the Belmont community hoped to execute the coaching change in a non-revenue sport without anyone paying notice. (In case you missed it, Howe recently revealed to her team that she and her same-sex partner planned to start a family, and a little more than a week later she was out of a job.) 

Strickland’s actions since are reminiscent of the “press conference” Kiffin conducted when he decided to leave UT after one season and go to USC, which he called his “dream job.” Kiffin gave a brief statement — he only did that begrudgingly — and then skulked off into the night. 

Based on the released statements, Strickland initially contended that Howe resigned. Several days later Belmont’s story changed: The parting was mutually agreed upon. Howe’s former players insist she was fired, but even they can’t be sure. After a meeting with Strickland, they said he refused to answer any questions about exactly what took place. 

It’s interesting to note that the most mature people throughout all of this have been the players. They have not necessarily said whether they thought Howe should or should not have kept her job. All they have sought is the truth, and Strickland and other Belmont officials have stonewalled them in that pursuit. 

Yet any individual who gives this situation a minimal amount of thought can pretty much figure what is actually the truth. 

In its own little Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell drama, Belmont forced out Howe when she revealed something that university leadership wished had been kept quiet. For all intents and purposes, she was fired, although she agreed to go quietly (probably with some sort of severance package to ease the blow).

Here’s the thing, though. Based on Tennessee labor law, it seems the university was well within its rights to take whatever action it did. Therefore, there seems to be no legal reason for Strickland to duck the truth.

He should have stepped up and been honest from the outset. He should have said that while the university, which is rooted in the Baptist tradition, respects Howe’s right to live as she chooses, it was agreed upon — after much reflection — that the way she lives her life is not consistent with the university’s overall religious mission, and therefore they agreed to part. He should have added that he would lend his unqualified support to help her get another job because her record as a soccer coach is of undeniable quality. 

People would not have liked it, but they would have had to respect the decision. 

As it is now, Howe’s supporters are not happy — we know that because of the numerous forms of protest that have taken place in recent weeks. It’s hard to believe that those who back the university’s stance are happy either, because Strickland and Co. have shown a complete lack of conviction in their actions. 

Finding someone in this state who respects Kiffin is like to trying to find life in outer space. It’s equally tough to respect Strickland at the moment. Chances are, he’s banking on the fact that the fall semester has ended and students have gone home for the holiday break, meaning this issue will die down.

Not that he would ever say so, of course. 

Contact the writer at dboclair@nashvillecitypaper.com

6 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 12/27/10 at 1:29

They think the less that is said that this situation will go away. Fisher will not let anyone talk, and he will not rehire Howe. There needs to be so much pressure on Fisher that he has to get off his high horse and do somehting that is right.

By: yogiman on 12/27/10 at 2:51

pswindle,

We are all entitled to our personal thoughts. While you demean Fisher, I would show a great respect for 'going by the rules' of the university.

Its like out Constitution, if it doesn't mean anything anymore, why keep spending money on it? Just put it in the 'outhouse'.

It has been brought out before; Howe knew their rules when she applied for the job. Did she not know of their anti-homosexual attitudes. It was known by the public when they opened their doors. Knowing they did not accept her sexual preferences, why did she apply? Thinking they should consider her as someone special?

In essence, the main question here is; Did the administration know of her homosexual life and still hire her? If they did, I would agree, they should not have brought it up later as a reason to fire her.

Then the next question is: Why did she throw it out to the public?

By: Nitzche on 12/28/10 at 9:22

seriously,this article is relevant how? What does the City Paper cost? Oh, nothing! Which is exactly what you are getting in quality from Tennessean light! By the way, who is this writer, never heard of him? How many articles has he written about Belmont?

By: Loretta Bridge on 12/28/10 at 9:53

This all happened at a very convenient time for BU.....just before the Xmas break.
This gives BU a good excuse for no comments. They can easily say we were all on Xmas break so we could not address the issue. Bottom line......BU officials think if they do not make any comments the situation will just go away but it will not. The students are smart enough and ethical enough that when classes start again the students will bring this issue back to the forefront. BU was just wrong and there is no getting around it. I wonder how many other faculty and staff members are fearing for their jobs and the right to live their personal lives with freedom. Nitzche it does not matter who wrote this article. You don't write about anything unless there is an issue or something to talk about. Now BU has given us all something to talk about.

By: yogiman on 12/28/10 at 12:16

Loretta Bridge,

It is obvious we all agree or disagree on this subject. Rules are rules. If you take a job with a company and don't feel you need to follow their rules, do you think you are justified in making your own rules... for the company that is paying your salary? You would be justified only if they hired you to re-write their company rules.

Please consider this as my re-writing my 12/27 2:51 post on this subject.

By: Nitzche on 12/29/10 at 3:44

there is NO issue!! What part of Private is complicated? Bringing out your sexual preference is private, she works for a private institution, sometimes it is "get out of my bedroom", this time it is "come into my bedroom"...make up your mind!