DES MOINES (AP) — Former Iowa State basketball star Nikki Moody has sued coach Bill Fennelly, the university and the state for racial discrimination and retaliation, saying she was repeatedly called a “thug” and labeled a selfish player despite being the program’s career assists leader.
Fennelly, who has been Iowa State’s coach since 1995, constantly demeaned, berated, harassed and discriminated against Moody during her time with the Cyclones, according to a lawsuit filed in state district court that seeks unspecified damages.
Moody, who is black, said the discrimination she suffered led to a “hostile education environment through racial harassment.”
Iowa State released a statement Monday night saying that it “takes very seriously complaints of discrimination and harassment,” adding that it “takes issue with the allegations and looks forward to responding in full to the lawsuit as the legal process proceeds.”
Fennelly is 447-223 with Iowa State — which regularly ranks among the nation’s top teams in home attendance — and is signed through 2019 after agreeing to a 12-year, $10.6 million contract in 2007.
Moody, who graduated in 2015 as a four-year starter, said the abuse caused her severe emotional distress and that her complaints to assistant coaches and a senior athletics administrator brought no response.
Moody claims that Fennelly treated white players differently than African-American players and that Fennelly called her a “thug” multiple times throughout her career. Moody said Fennelly told Iowa State’s freshman players that her senior class, made up of Moody and two other African-American players, were “bad influences” and to stay away from them.
Fennelly allegedly told Moody she had “been trying to ruin my life, but I will get the last laugh. I can’t wait to tell coaches that call me all the negative things I know about you.”
According to Moody, Fennelly also repeatedly demeaned Chassidy Cole, at the time the only black player on the team who was not a freshman, saying she “will end up in prison, just like her mother” and was also a thug.
Cole declined comment Monday, telling The Associated Press she “didn’t want to be involved.”
Moody led the Cyclones with 14.5 points and 6.8 assists per game in 2014-15. She was drafted 33rd overall by the San Antonio Stars in the 2015 WNBA draft in April, just weeks before filing a complaint against Fennelly with the Iowa State University Office of Equal Opportunity, according to her lawsuit.
Moody was cut May 28, and she mentions in her suit that Fennelly publicly said that he and Stars coach Dan Hughes are friends.
Iowa State said Monday that the Office of Equal Opportunity thoroughly reviewed Moody’s complaints and was unable to substantiate her charges of racial discrimination.
Iowa State struggled without Moody last season though, going 13-17 and missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. Its struggles came largely after starting center Bryanna Fernstrom abruptly decided to transfer to Minnesota in January.
Fernstrom tweeted Monday that “what happens in the dark, always comes to light!” A Gophers spokeswoman confirmed that it was Fernstrom’s account.
Iowa State said in its statement that Fennelly “is known for his passionate and demanding style of coaching toward all players.”
Former Iowa State star Lyndsey Fennelly, who is married to Fennelly’s son, a Cyclones assistant coach, told Des Moines radio station KXNO that she had been in touch with over 30 players on Monday ranging from the 1990s to players who just finished their Iowa State careers.
Fennelly said the responses, which came from players of all kinds of backgrounds, were almost universally in their former coach’s favor.
“There’s a lot of Iowa State players...and we all have his back. Not we all. Most of us do,” Lyndsey Fennelly said. “There’s two sides of the story — and only side of the story has been told up to this point.”
Iowa State is being sued by another former basketball player, Bubu Palo, who claimed its response to rape allegations ruined his chances of playing professional basketball. Palo accused university officials of wrongly punishing him even after a criminal case against Palo was dropped.
Iowa State’s cross-state rival, Iowa, is facing legal issues of its own. A lawsuit filed last month accused Iowa athletic director Gary Barta of unfairly removing female coaches and the top women’s sports administrator during a decade-long tenure stained by gender bias.