It was reported that Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly and ISU have been sued by former player Nikki Moody. Fennelly is known as a “passionate” and “demanding” coach. In other words, he isn’t afraid to “get after” players in order to motivate them. Moody obviously took exception to his techniques and has alleged the coach caused a “hostile” work environment because of “racial harassment.” Moody alleges that Fennelly treated black women and other minorities differently than white players because of their race. Much of the complaint focuses on the fact that Fennelly allegedly referred to Moody (and another black player) as “thugs.” Many former players in particular have spoken out in support of Fennelly.
The lawsuit should be a wake up call for all coaches. Many coaches are considered “passionate” and “demanding” by players and parents. Often these coaches may use “colorful” language when talking with their players. Some players may be able to handle it and others may not. Some players may be more of a target than others in practice and games for various reasons, whether it relates to performance, attention span, hustle, desire, respectfulness or dozens of other reasons. And sometimes coaches may simply go too far in the manner with their passionate and demanding approach.
Does that mean coaches need to be soft on players? I don’t think so. Coaches can still demand much of their players. But coaches also need to be aware of what they say and how they say it. Cursing by coaches has long been generally accepted (particularly at the college and pro levels), but it is a bad idea. So is calling your players derogatory names and making threats to them (whether it relates to playing time, expulsion from the team or other issues). I am not saying Bill Fennelly engaged in that type of behavior. I don’t know the facts. But I have been around the fields and courts enough to know that coaches engage in that sort of behavior frequently. Coaches get upset and emotional. It happens. But insulting and berating players shouldn’t be accepted and all too often that is what happens.
Lawsuits like Moody’s are not new. The University of Illinois was also sued this past year for allegedly creating a racially hostile environment. The players initially demanded $10 million but eventually settle the case for $375,000. An assistant coach was fired as a result. Many coaches will need to adjust their behavior or else they will become targets. I also expect these lawsuits to continue to trickle down from the college and high school ranks down into AAU and other youth related programs. (Programs better make sure their insurance covers them for these sorts of lawsuits). In the end, the Moody v. ISU case will likely resolve itself with a settlement short of trial. It seems too risky for a collegiate coach to have their dirty laundry aired in a public setting. It would be horrible for recruiting. And that’s exactly why these cases will become the new norm.
Read the entire Moody petition here.