Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill is under fire for the second time in a month for his willingness to skirt league norms in his attempt to gain strategic advantages — this time, he is accused by current senior personnel executive and former Cardinals vice president Terry McDonough, who alleges direct cheating along with discrimination, harassment, and gross workplace misconduct, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Cardinals have responded through an external public relations firm, denying all allegations. In a statement, Jim McCarthy, the external public relations consultant, argued that the arbitration claim filed by McDonough is “wildly false, reckless, and an opportunistic ploy for financial gain.” He also counter-alleged that there is evidence that McDonough has engaged in domestic violence.
In his statement, McCarthy said, “Additionally, in recent days, we have learned of disturbing allegations of extreme domestic violence by Terry,” going on to detail those claims after responding to McDonough’s allegations.
This back-and-forth comes on the heels of several Washington Commanders scandals, ultimately culminating in the forced sale of the team from current owner Dan Snyder to a new set of yet-undecided-upon owners.
Michael Bidwill Has Been Under Fire for a Month
Prior to this filing, Bidwill found himself answering questions about why players considered Arizona’s facilities and ability to take care of its players one of the worst in the NFL after the NFLPA released the results of their survey about team facilities in early March. For the Cardinals, there were notable anecdotes about dangerous weight rooms with uneven floors and meals charged from players’ paychecks.
While the Cardinals quickly attempted to rectify these problems after the survey results became public, ex-Cardinals like cornerback Byron Murphy did not hide his excitement to be with an organization that wouldn’t charge him for meals. More disturbingly, Cardinals legend Patrick Peterson revealed that Bidwill would leave fan mail critical of Peterson on his chair in the locker room, including invectives from fans that argued that he was old and couldn’t tackle.
Bidwill has only owned the team since 2019 after inheriting it from his father, William Bidwill. Prior to that, and while Wilks and McDonough were in their previous positions, Michael Bidwill was team president.
Terry McDonough Alleges That Michael Bidwill Violated NFL Rules With Burner Phones
McDonough alleges that Bidwill instituted a practice of forcing him and then-head coach Steve Wilks, now the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, to communicate with suspended general manager Steve Keim via a system of burner phones. Keim was suspended from operations for five weeks by the NFL after pleading guilty to extreme DUI in Arizona, a suspension that barred Keim from communicating with team officials in any capacity.
In the arbitration claim filed by McDonough to the NFL league office, the Cardinals executive further alleges that Bidwill subjected Wilks and McDonough to harassment for objecting to the scheme to skirt the NFL rules, eventually firing Wilks and demoting McDonough that same year as a result of their objections to participation.
Wilks was named head coach earlier that same season after an extensive coaching search. Wilks has not earned a non-interim head coaching job since his one-year stint as the head coach in Arizona. McDonough goes further, alleging that Bidwill sabotaged Wilks as the year progressed and further harassed and continued to demote McDonough after the season.
Wilks joined Brian Flores’ class-action lawsuit against the NFL alleging racial discrimination in the league’s hiring practices. In that lawsuit, Wilks alleges that he was hired by the Cardinals simply to serve as a “bridge coach” and never given a chance to succeed. McDonough referenced that lawsuit in his filing.
He also further details his claim about harassment and league rule circumvention by alleging that Bidwill wrote both Keim and McDonough up for “insubordination” after their objections to the burner phone scheme.
Prior to filing his arbitration claim, McDonough was informed that his contract would not be renewed with the Cardinals. He is seeking damages for breach of contract and emotional distress and alleges that the Cardinals stymied his NFL career. McDonough claims he still has evidence on his phone.
On top of the allegations about violating NFL rules, McDonough accused Bidwill of creating a hostile workplace environment for minorities, alleging that Bidwill mistreated a Black employee and two pregnant employees. McDonough claims that the two pregnant women were “reduced to tears” after Bidwill screamed at them.
Bidwill referenced an employee survey in 2019 where McDonough claims many employees suggested that they worked in an environment of fear, indicating “that they were fearful of Bidwill on a daily basis, as a result of Bidwill’s erratic and often abusive interactions with them,” according to the filing.
That survey, according to McDonough, was intercepted by Bidwill and quashed.
The Arizona Cardinals Deny Terry McDonough’s Allegations
In their detailed response through McCarthy, the Cardinals claimed McDonough either misinterpreted, misunderstood, mischaracterized, or misremembered the events he described in his filing.
With regards to the burner phone scheme, McCarthy claims that while the scheme happened, it happened through another executive and not at the behest of Bidwill. When Bidwill found out about the scheme, the Cardinals claim that the then-team president and current owner put a “swift” end to the program “and directed the phones be retrieved and communications stopped.”
Some of the interactions McDonough describes in the filing are recharacterized by the Cardinals, including a passing interaction with a free agent where the Cardinals claim that Bidwill was merely attempting to communicate to McDonough that his attitude towards incoming free agents could be perceived as “patronizing,” an event that McDonough details as an example of “racial animus” from Bidwill.
They further claim that the survey McDonough described was received and acted upon, with a new initiative from the Cardinals organization to enhance workplace practices, including “creating a new role for a Chief People Officer along with boosting our Human Resources staff and adding robust employee wellness initiatives.”
The Cardinals do not go into much detail about the other allegations, characterizing them broadly as his “entirely subjective view that he was verbally mistreated and professionally thwarted by our team’s leadership.”
They did not have a specific response to the anecdote about pregnant employees being reduced to tears. It should be noted that most initial public relations statements do not have responses to every specific allegation in a legal filing. However, they do go on to point to their history of work toward spearheading diversity and racial equality.
The Cardinals’ Public Relations Consultant Accuses McDonough of Domestic Violence and Workplace Misconduct
After going into detail about the allegations from McDonough, McCarthy added, “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.”
The Cardinals claim, through McCarthy, that they received a “spontaneous” message from a family member of McDonough’s that claimed that McDonough had “abandoned responsibility” to one of his children and cut her off financially. They also claim that, in the process of conducting legal due diligence in light of the filing, they found “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.”
In addition to those heavy accusations, McCarthy lays out a case that McDonough actually engaged in the very pattern of behavior he accused Bidwill of. They accused McDonough of engaging in a non-consensual pattern of recording other employees without their knowledge. Arizona is a one-party consent state, meaning only one party to a conversation needs to consent to or be made aware of a recording of the conversation.
McCarthy accuses McDonough of berating other team officials, which he characterizes as a pattern of behavior that involved contrition before a “renewed outburst of anger.” In addition, McCarthy claims that McDonough verbally berated Bidwill after a routine request from Bidwill to be involved in personnel decisions, an offense that McDonough allegedly apologized for in writing.
The Cardinals’ external public relations advisor further argues that McDonough demonstrated an additional pattern of unprofessional behavior, including habitual tardiness, continued “friction” with colleagues, disregarding team protocol for workplace attire, and absence from critical team planning events, like meetings in the days leading up to the draft. The Cardinals claim they have a record of “repeated insubordination” from McDonough, including a “combative attitude” towards colleagues.
The Cardinals shifted McDonough to a remote position to “minimize the need for in-person interaction with co-workers which had grown increasingly rancorous,” after which McDonough evidently attempted to apologize again to Bidwill but never showed up to the scheduled meeting.
The Cardinals have 20 days to respond to the arbitration filing with the NFL. They say that they are “welcome to the opportunity to set the record straight in that forum and demonstrate how these claims have absolutely no validity or hard basis.”
After the NFL bore the public relations nightmare of Snyder and the Commanders, it looks like a new, potentially uglier fight will rear its head.