In an absolutely scathing lawsuit, former Iowa State Women’s Basketball player Nikki Moody, who graduated in 2015, alleges she was racially discriminated against by current head coach Bill Fennelly. The lawsuit, submitted Friday in Iowa District Court and first reported on Monday by Luke Meredith and Ryan Foley of the Associated Press, includes dozens of grievances. Moody suggests she was called a "thug" numerous times in her four years at Iowa State. Moody states she was not given permission to attend her uncle’s funeral, but Jadda Buckley, a white member of the team was, "allowed to attend the funeral of an unrelated neighbor." Further, Moody says Fennelly told black athletes during a practice that they "weren’t raised right," and she says younger members of the team were told to stay away from the older, black members on the squad.
Speculating on the allegations is challenging. Fennelly has had trouble with players in the past. Jessica Schroll and Bryanna Fernstrom, who are both white, were consistent contributors for the Cyclones before they each decided to abruptly leave the program. In both cases, minimal information on the departures was provided by Iowa State, Fennelly, or the players involved. Regarding Fernstrom’s departure, Fennelly stated his "focus has always been on the kids who want to be here." Were these typical college transfers, with players just wanting to play more minutes or get closer to home?
Perhaps Fennelly’s coaching style is to blame for previous defections, but this same coaching style might be what has allowed Fennelly to connect with some players and maintain his place at Iowa State for 21 years. Throughout the years, Fennelly has earned praise from players who talk about his love and support and say his toughness made them a better player and a stronger person. Fennelly’s toughness certainly isn’t in question; anyone who attends a game at Hilton sees how hard he can be on players.
Fennelly has a right to coach Iowa State players in a way that he deems necessary for their development and the team’s benefit. He, of course, doesn’t have a right to take this tough love to the level of abuse or racism. And, even if Fennelly has gotten along amicably with previous and current athletes who are black, that doesn’t automatically dismiss Moody’s allegations or mean it’s implausible he made inexcusable comments to Moody during her time with the Cyclones.
Iowa State needs to address this situation head on. The lawsuit creates a public relations nightmare - on top of a highly disappointing 2015-16 season – that could dramatically impact future recruiting efforts. Ultimately, we need to hear from Fennelly himself in an honest, open press conference. It would also be helpful to hear more from players who were on the team with Moody, especially Brynn Williamson and Fallon Ellis, fellow members of the 2015 class. Iowa State issued a press release on Monday evening that states the university's Office of Equal Opportunity was unable to substantiate Moody's claims. The release also notes as fact Fennelly's "demanding style of coaching toward all players."
Just over a year ago, in an article published by the Ames Tribune, Fennelly suggested that, despite their differences, he and Moody might one day sit down for a beer together. It’s impossible to see that event ever happening now.