Just when you think you’ve heard it all . . .
That can be the only reaction after a bizarre Tuesday that becomes another headline in the more than year-long soap opera that has engulfed the Arizona Cardinals.
Somehow it seems strange that the team’s training center is named and sponsored by Dignity Health because there wasn’t much of that to be found.
A mere 110 days after former offensive line coach Sean Kugler filed an arbitration claim with the NFL related to his firing in November for allegedly groping a woman during the team’s trip to Mexico City to play the 49ers, commissioner Roger Goodell had another arbitration claim land on his desk, this one from former personnel executive Terry McDonough.
This one includes burner phones (yes, burner phones) along with allegations by McDonough that owner Michael Bidwill had engaged in cheating, as well as discriminatory and harassing behavior directed towards not only him but others who have worked for the organization.
McDonough asserted that after then-general manager Steve Keim was arrested for extreme DUI on July 4, 2018, about two weeks later and before the club’s five-week suspension was announced, Bidwill had burner phones given to several team executives so they could communicate with Keim when the suspension began. Two of those were McDonough and coach Steve Wilks, who both were opposed to the plan.
The arbitration claim says that McDonough, who was vice president of player personnel at the time, told Bidwill on July 23 the plan was unnecessary and “that they could handle the five-week suspension in Keim’s absence; and that the Cardinals did not need to cheat to have a successful preseason.”
At that point, the complaint says Bidwill “started screaming at him at a high volume, accusing McDonough of insubordination and telling McDonough that he didn’t ‘like his attitude.’”
Called to Bidwill’s office the next morning, McDonough was told the owner was “writing him up” for being unprofessional and that began a “campaign of bullying and harassment” by the owner.
McDonough alleges that Bidwill attended an evening meeting of the scouting staff in training camp as well as a meeting with scouts and coaches. According to McDonough, that hadn’t happened during his time with the organization. At both meetings, “Bidwill bullied, belittled, and criticized McDonough.”
Not long after McDonough’s claims became public, the team unleashed a 1,488-word diatribe against him. The statement, which featured the headline, “Our View on Claims Raised by Terry McDonough in his Arbitration Filing,” made sure to also say, “Attribute to Jim McCarthy, external public relations advisor to the Cardinals.”
McCarthy’s Twitter profile refers to himself as “President, CounterPoint Strategies. Crisis management advisor to leading private equity firms, large-cap companies, and trade associations.”
When you go to the company website, it’s impossible to find out any pertinent information about the company because everything is password protected.
In the response, which is included in full at the bottom of this article, the club contradicts McDonough, claiming Bidwill had no knowledge of the burner-phone plan at first.
It says, “During the time that one of our previous executives was serving a team-imposed suspension for misconduct unrelated to the organization, we took additional measures when (we) learned that another executive had interfered with the protocol of that suspension. That second incident involved obtaining mobile phones for communicating during the suspension period. Mr. Bidwill took swift action when he learned of that situation and directed the phones be retrieved and communications stopped.”
McDonough claims to still have the burner phone, which has the audio of discussions he had with Keim while he was suspended.
It’s important to note that Wilks, who was fired after that season, sued the league and the Cardinals last year within a class-action racial discrimination case begun by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores.
In his suit, Wilks refers to Keim being “supposedly suspended” and labeled it “bogus discipline.” It also said, “There is evidence of Mr. Keim’s input and participation during his so-called suspension.”
Beyond the burner-phone issue, there could be other red flags considering McDonough’s claims about Bidwill’s “discriminatory and harassing behavior.”
The complaint alleges that “Bidwill’s widespread workplace misconduct is significantly worse than the misbehavior of former crosstown Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver.”
Coincidentally (or maybe not), McDonough’s brother Ryan was the Suns’ general manager from 2013 until 2018.
McDonough said the way he was treated was “consistent with a pattern of workplace misconduct by Bidwill that is endemic and the hallmark of his stewardship of the storied Cardinals franchise.”
He claims Bidwill screamed with “abusive and bullying mistreatment” at two pregnant women, making them cry and also treated a Black employee poorly, which created “an environment of fear for minority employees.”
McCarthy’s response said, “It must be stressed that our owner’s long track record of fostering diversity and racial equity within our team and the League make this allegation especially despicable.”
Former Cardinals employee Kyle Odegard tweeted on Tuesday: “I feel bad for my ex-coworkers. A bunch of good people over there trapped in toxicity.”
Another, Felipe Corral Jr., responded to Odegard with a series of tweets:
“And all the talented people that had no choice but to leave the org due to the toxicity.”
“People have told me I’m petty and disgruntled for continuing to shine a light on the mistreatment of women and people of color within the AZCardinals org.”
“I promise you it’s not just me. I just don’t mind talking about it.”
“The experience ultimately changed the course of my short journalism career, and if I could prevent the next journalist POC from going through the same I will do my best.”
“Bidwill’s leadership is reflected among almost every individual in a “leadership” position. The culture is toxic, there’s often turnover, and they barely added an HR team 2 years ago. The HR team has its hands tied, and often can’t implement change.”
The McCarthy response also mentions that in 2018, “Terry reacted with outrage to our owner’s benign request to be included in personnel discussions during the general manager’s suspension, shouting and physically menacing Mr. Bidwill in full view of many colleagues and players.”
And yet, the Cardinals kept him employed until a few weeks ago.
Its’s instructive to know that McCarthy had the Augusta National Golf Club (home of the Masters) as a client in 2002 when it was being pressured to allow women members. Former Sports Illustrated writer Alan Shipnuck, who wrote a book about the controversy, was told by McCarthy that he suggested a “pugnacious” attitude and said, “My clients appreciate that I like to get in the arena, take off the gloves and throw down.”
He surely did that, while keeping in mind it was the Cardinals and Bidwill that supplied him with the dirt it purportedly has on McDonough, including allegations of domestic violence.
Bidwill obviously knew exactly what McCarthy would do, handed him the ammunition to do it and approved the statement.
The serious question is if this is the way a franchise in the National Football League should react.
The statement began, “We are reluctantly obliged to provide a public response along with broader context for some disappointing and irresponsible actions by Terry McDonough. Claims he has made in an arbitration filing are wildly false, reckless, and an opportunistic ploy for financial gain. Here is our view on the matter.”
It concluded, “Long before we knew these latest details concerning domestic violence, and throughout his time with the Cardinals, the team took extraordinary measures to support Terry and assist him in navigating his professional and personal challenges. That included encouraging him to seek expert help for the difficult issues that clearly continue to afflict him. Despite these terrible circumstances, we have an ethical duty to confront any claims that wrongly malign the integrity that our whole team has worked so hard to build. Again, his allegations are wildly false, reckless, and plainly intended to extract financial gain.
“If an arbitration process results, we will welcome the opportunity to set the record straight in that forum and demonstrate how these claims have absolutely no validity or hard basis.”
The words in bold above are what the Cardinals (Bidwill) should have said and been done with it for now. This is a team that has distributed injury reports for players as if they were state secrets, yet took a far different approach by maligning McDonough.
His attorney, Michael Caspino said he looks forward to the truth coming out in arbitration with Goodell and told ESPN, “Unfortunately, it appears that the Cardinals will defend this case through dishonest character assassination.”
He said to ProFootballTalk, “Terry is a good family man. The way the Cardinals have tried to smear him is disgusting.”
Unfortunately for Caspino, the league’s arbitration process favors teams and keeps disputes out of the courtroom where it would be public and argued before a judge.
Bidwill certainly knows that. Still, he should have bit his tongue and saved their response, which is due to the league 20 days from Tuesday, at which point Goodell will determine the next steps.
Take the high road. Don’t get personal. Show some class. Instead, Bidwill simply opened himself up to even more criticism.
Our View on Claims Raised by Terry McDonough in his Arbitration Filing
*Attribute to Jim McCarthy, external public relations advisor to the Cardinals
We are reluctantly obliged to provide a public response along with broader context for some disappointing and irresponsible actions by Terry McDonough. Claims he has made in an arbitration filing are wildly false, reckless, and an opportunistic ploy for financial gain. Here is our view on the matter.
As part of our transition in leadership, with both a new general manager and head coach, we opted several weeks ago to inform Terry that his contract with the Cardinals would not be renewed. But he was assured that we would honor the compensation terms for the remaining year-plus of that contract and that we would also support any endeavor to continue his own career elsewhere.
Our position was consistent with many efforts we’ve made to accommodate Terry during his time with the team, despite difficulties in his personal life and his often volatile demeanor toward colleagues. That’s why we are saddened to see that Terry is now lashing out at our organization with disparagements and threats that are absurdly at odds with the facts. This unnecessary and vindictive action by Terry was intended to malign his co-workers, our owner Michael Bidwill, and our team with outlandish accusations.
We have alerted the League about Terry’s maneuvering and provided them with specific details on the distortions that he has put forward. Additionally in recent days we have learned of disturbing allegations of extreme domestic violence by Terry, as detailed below in this response.
Here are some of those particulars about the claims.
Starting at least in 2019, Terry began a practice of surreptitiously audio recording his interactions with colleagues with the apparent and unethical aim of gaining some future leverage over them. He now insists some of his illicit recordings show that we somehow “compromised his marriage” and “lied to America.”
During the time that one of our previous executives was serving a team-imposed suspension for misconduct unrelated to the organization, we took additional measures when learned that another executive had interfered with the protocol of that suspension. That second incident involved obtaining mobile phones for communicating during the suspension period. Mr. Bidwill took swift action when he learned of that situation and directed the phones be retrieved and communications stopped. Terry was not privy to the full sequence of those circumstances but has nevertheless contrived the situation as a broad conspiracy to undermine him personally.
A passing interaction that Mr. Bidwill had several years ago with a group of free agent players at a tryout has been horrendously distorted in Terry’s account to imply some sort of racial animus – a transparent smear that is truly beneath contempt. In reality, our owner had objected to Terry alone about the overly effusive and awkward fashion that Terry had displayed while making those introductions, out of concern it seemed condescending to the players. It must be stressed that our owner’s long track record of fostering diversity and racial equity within our team and the League make this allegation especially despicable.
Contrary to Terry’s claim, the 2019 employee survey referenced in the complaint was not ignored but in fact formed the basis for significant enhancements to our workplace practices. That included creating a new role for a Chief People Officer along with boosting our Human Resources staff and adding robust employee wellness initiatives.
The bulk of Terry’s other stated complaints amount to his entirely subjective view that he was verbally mistreated and professionally thwarted by our team’s leadership. But that claim runs contrary to many documented instances, over several years, in which Terry extended unsolicited praise to Mr. Bidwill, in particular for the extensive support and encouragement that Terry had received, especially during trying times in his personal life. Our leadership also repeatedly encouraged and facilitated Terry’s wish to continue his career advancement.
Even a team memorandum to Terry that he includes among the few attachments to his filing shows plainly that he was repeatedly insubordinate and combative toward colleagues and leadership. The team still tried at that stage to salvage his role with us, shifting him to assignments that would focus his energies more toward player evaluation and less on collaboration, an area in which Terry had struggled consistently.
That’s why it pains us to be forced into a position of exposing the details of Terry’s character and we are distressed to know that our faith in him was so misplaced. Terry had well-documented troubles earlier in his life and we had always been sensitive to what seemed a sincere atonement and determination to set a positive example. But in retrospect, there were many signs that are consistent with how he has now crossed a line into such drastic hostility. Here are just some of those aspects.
After we hired Terry, we received a spontaneous overture from a close family member of his, writing that he was “troubled and perplexed” about “recent changes in Terry’s behavior” and that Terry had “abandoned responsibility” to one of his children and cut her off financially. He characterized the way Terry “presents his good Dad image” as “all just a ruse” and described the hardship and personal hurt their family was enduring as a result. Nonetheless, we always took Terry at his word about his family situation and his background, even providing support on occasions when he discussed that story publicly or in the press.
We also discovered that he had secretly conveyed private personnel documents, descriptions of private meetings, and other confidential information to selected news media, all with the purpose of aiming criticism at his colleagues to benefit himself. This was all in violation of our guidelines and the mutual trust in our workplace.
Over time, a troubling pattern emerged in Terry’s conduct. His friction with colleagues and willful insubordination would lead to reprimands, then seemingly real contrition from Terry, only to be followed by a repeat offense or renewed outburst of anger. In one such instance, in 2018, Terry reacted with outrage to our owner’s benign request to be included in personnel discussions during the general manager’s suspension, shouting and physically menacing Mr. Bidwill in full view of many colleagues and players. Hours later Terry apologized, writing “You have been a big advocate and supporter of mine [and] I have a great amount of respect for you. It will not happen again.”
Some months later, Terry was reprimanded for prolonged tardiness and disregarding team protocol on workplace attire at our offices during the NFL draft. Again he volunteered a written apology, yet then failed to show up at all for the remaining days of that draft, his most important duties of the year, and gave no explanation for his absence. Instead, he sent a hostile note to our owner saying “Everyone in America is going to find out you are a liar.”
Accordingly, our general manager at the time felt that although Terry was a valuable talent evaluator, his role should be focused on that aspect alone and that Terry should work remotely. That’s why we shifted his duties to minimize the need for in-person interaction with co-workers which had grown increasingly rancorous. Terry accepted that adjustment with profuse gratitude, even as he meanwhile was underhandedly tape recording his colleagues and secretly instigating criticism of them in the press.
More recently, Terry suggested a private meeting with our owner “to put this chapter in the past [and] all parties can walk away unscathed.” Despite that veiled threat, Mr. Bidwill agreed to the meeting. But at the appointed time and place, Terry never showed up and instead sent yet another apology.
There are many such documented instances of Terry’s combative behavior in our records, some minor and some major, including threats of violence toward a colleague at a widely-attended Christmas party for co-workers.
For legal due-diligence reasons, we conducted a records review in recent days that has uncovered a series of disturbing emails to and from Terry’s work email account that include disturbing, first-hand allegations of extreme domestic abuse by Terry. Clearly, these latest detailed accounts are even more shocking than the previous behavior by Terry in the workplace that we had already documented. As required under our team and NFL guidelines, we promptly alerted the League to these specifics.
Long before we knew these latest details concerning domestic violence, and throughout his time with the Cardinals, the team took extraordinary measures to support Terry and assist him in navigating his professional and personal challenges. That included encouraging him to seek expert help for the difficult issues that clearly continue to afflict him. Despite these terrible circumstances, we have an ethical duty to confront any claims that wrongly malign the integrity that our whole team has worked so hard to build. Again, his allegations are wildly false, reckless, and plainly intended to extract financial gain.
If an arbitration process results, we will welcome the opportunity to set the record straight in that forum and demonstrate how these claims have absolutely no validity or hard basis.
Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: email@example.com