NFL Executive Sues Cardinals for Defamation Following Arbitration Award

AM Editorial Team

Terry McDonough, a former executive of the Arizona Cardinals, recently filed a lawsuit against the team and its owner, Michael Bidwill, for defamation, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, seeking unspecified damages. The lawsuit was filed less than a week after an NFL arbitrator awarded McDonough $3 million for defamatory statements made by the Cardinals about him. The lawsuit also names external public relations adviser James McCarthy and his firm, CounterPoint Strategies, lawyers representing the team and unnamed others as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges that Bidwill hired a public relations firm to dig up dirt on McDonough and spread lies about him and his family. It also accuses Bidwill of repeatedly lying under oath both during a deposition and before an arbitrator duly appointed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The lawsuit claims that if a player, team employee, coach, team executive, or league employee committed the same egregious acts, they would be immediately and severely disciplined by Commissioner Goodell. To date, despite knowing all the above facts, Commissioner Goodell has done nothing to discipline Bidwill and the Cardinals.

On Monday, two days before the lawsuit was filed, McDonough’s attorneys filed a 62-page decision issued by NFL arbitrator Jeffrey A. Mishkin in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in a motion for confirmation of the arbitration award. Mishkin awarded McDonough $600,000 in damages for emotional distress, $150,000 in damages for harm to reputation, and punitive damages of $2.25 million.

The arbitrator wrote that McDonough had proven that the Cardinals’ defamatory statements have caused harm to his reputation. He also concluded that McDonough had proven that the Respondents made false statements as required for his defamation claim. According to the federal court filing, McDonough had sought special damages of $15 million for lost future earnings, general damages of $10 million for emotional distress and $10 million for reputational harm, and punitive damages of $60 to $90 million.

Mishkin dismissed McDonough’s contract-related claims and ordered him to pay the Cardinals $45,000. The arbitrator also dismissed McDonough’s claims for retaliation under the Arizona Employment Protection Act, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. He ordered McDonough to pay the Cardinals $20,000 as contribution towards their attorneys’ fees as a sanction for McDonough’s breach of the Confidentiality Order and $25,000 as contribution towards their attorneys’ fees incurred in successful defense of McDonough’s contract-based claims.

McDonough filed the arbitration demand last year to Goodell, accusing the team and Bidwill of illegal and retaliatory mistreatment and attempting to cheat on the terms of a general manager’s suspension. McDonough alleged that Bidwill cursed at, berated, and formally reprimanded him, and ultimately demoted him after McDonough and former Cardinals coach Steve Wilks refused to participate in a scheme hatched by Bidwill to utilize burner phones to communicate with Steve Keim, then suspended as the team’s GM, during training camp in 2018. Neither McDonough nor Wilks wanted to cheat by communicating with Keim in violation of his suspension terms, the arbitration demand said.

McDonough’s defamation allegations were related to a statement the Cardinals released in response to the arbitration demand. The team attributed the statement to McCarthy and said: “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.” The Cardinals also said in that statement: “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.”

The lawsuit alleges that Bidwill’s mistreatment of McDonough is ongoing and continues to this day and is consistent with a pattern of workplace misconduct by Bidwill that is endemic and the hallmark of his stewardship of the storied Cardinals franchise. The Cardinals said in a statement issued Thursday through a spokesman that they are aware of the complaint but have no additional comment as it is an active legal matter.