Women's Sports

REPORT: Iowa State women’s soccer coach accused of verbal abuse, body shaming

Iowa State head coach Matt Fannon reacts to the Omaha game at Cyclone Sports Complex on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2022. Iowa State defeated Omaha, 4-1. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY © Margaret Kispert/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

Iowa State women’s soccer coach Matt Fannon has been accused of verbally abusing and body shaming players within the program by several former athletes, according to a report from The Des Moines Register on Wednesday.

Former players accuse Fannon of creating a toxic environment that has led to 17 players transferring, quitting or leaving the program since Fannon was hired at Iowa State in 2019.

The program has compiled an 8-17-5 record during Fannon’s two seasons at the helm. The team is currently 3-9-4 going into Thursday night’s regular-season finale against Kansas in Lawrence.

Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard and senior associate athletics director/sports administration Callie Sanders refused Register requests for interviews through an athletic department spokesman. Fannon did not respond to the Register’s requests for comment.

Only one former Iowa State player, former Ankeny Centennial star Olivia Wee, went on the record with the Register, but seven other former players and one other person connected to the program spoke anonymously due to fear of retaliation.

All of those people confirmed the stories told by Wee, who alleged Fannon bullied players and assistant coaches within the program. Three former athletes described stories of athletes crying in the locker room before and after practices and two others hoped the 2020 season would be canceled due to COVID-19 because of the toll Fannon’s behavior was taking on the team.

Some of the allegations stemmed from mandatory weigh-ins before and after practices. This is a practice that has come under significant scrutiny in recent years after athletes around the country have come forward with stories about depression, anxiety and eating disorders that were the result of body shaming culture in sports.

These allegations include a story told by former Bowling Green goalie Alyssa Abernot, the only other former player to go on the record in the report, in which Fannon told Abernot to get breast reduction surgery if she had any hopes of getting on the field.

“He was like, ‘If you want to be successful here, you’ll do that, like get it today if you can,’ all this stuff,” Abernot told The Register. “He wasn’t really saying why. It was more like, ‘You’ll feel better. You’ll look better. That was kind of it.'”

Abernot got the surgery and was instructed to take six weeks off from soccer in order to recover, but Fannon pushed her into doing bike workouts that she believes ultimately caused an infection that required another surgery.

Abernot filed a Title IX claim against Fannon, which was initially denied by Bowling Green, then was later confirmed and refused to be released citing privacy concerns. Abernot signed a form that allowed the complaint to be released to The Register.

The report on the incident stated there was “insufficient information … by a preponderance of the evidence, to find any violation related to Abernot’s surgery or discussions related to her surgery.”

The Register did talk to multiple former Bowling Green players who defended Fannon and his approach to coaching the team.

The Register asked Iowa State’s Equal Opportunity Office if there had been any Title IX complaints filed against Fannon since his arrival in Ames, but the school said it could not comment or confirm if any such reports had been filed against the coach, and Wee said she had not filed a Title IX complaint against Fannon.

Wee did say she had presented her concerns to administrators in Ames, including Pollard and Sanders, who she said were dismissive of her concerns.

In February 2020, Fannon told Wee that she should consider transferring as he didn’t think she was good enough to play at Iowa State. She opted out of the 2021 spring season which had been delayed by the pandemic.

Wee’s father, Randy, said he exchanged emails with Pollard in June 2021 and told the athletic director the program had a “toxic environment that people didn’t want to be a part of.”

Wee asked to meet with Pollard, but that request was denied as Pollard said athletes have numerous channels through which to file complaints, including meeting with Sanders, who directly oversees women’s soccer.

Pollard said he was “not willing to meet with a parent until I know the student-athlete has met with” the sport’s direct supervisor.

Olivia Wee said she took her concerns to Sanders on two separate occasions in 2021. “I told her about how I felt like we were being mistreated and not really heard,” Wee said.

Wee felt as though Sanders did not take her concerns seriously and worked along with her parents to set up a meeting with the administrator. That meeting was eventually held in October 2021.

Wee’s mother, Nicole, said she believed Sanders wanted to have the meeting without her and her husband present in order to pull her daughter’s scholarship due to a missed step on Olivia’s mental health plan when she left the team.

“I have no doubt it was her plan to say, ‘You weren’t following the plan, how we wanted it done; therefore, we’re taking your scholarship,'” Nicole told The Register.

Wee said her final interactions with the program came in December 2021 when she met with Fannon about potentially rejoining the team, but Fannon was uninterested and told Wee she would not play if she returned to the program.

Later that month, Wee reached out to Sanders again, but the administrator said the relationship had become too fractured to be beneficial for either side.

“He is certain that you will not play, and you are certain that you want to prove him wrong and this is not a healthy situation for either of you,” Sanders wrote in an email the Wee family provided to The Register.

Sanders offered to keep Wee on scholarship at Iowa State as long as she agreed not to be a part of the program. Wee accepted that offer to remain at Iowa State as a double major in dietetics and exercise science.

This is a developing story to follow in the days and weeks ahead.

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.