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Avon Barksdale, the leader of the feared Barksdale Crew on The Wire, once said, “The game is the game.” Well, in the NFL, the game is the game, too. But away from the game, NFL organizations like the Arizona Cardinals are workplaces like any other. And a former employee is accusing Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill of running a hostile one. The accusations run the gamut from the serious — allegedly mistreating Black employees and pregnant women — to the absurd, allegedly using burner phones in a way that would make Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell proud.

Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill allegedly asked his coach and executives to use burner phones to circumvent league rules

Burner phones — untraceable prepaid cell phones — became part of the lexicon in the early 2000s when the HBO show The Wire depicted their use by the notorious drug-dealing gang, the Barksdale Crew.

In a bombshell arbitration filing by former Cardinals executive Terry McDonough, burner phones play a crucial role.

According to ESPN insider Adam Schefter, who read a copy of the complaint, McDonough alleges that Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill forced then-head coach Steve Wilks and McDonough to use said burner phones to communicate with the team’s suspended general manager in 2018.

McDonough and Wilks “objected to and sought to avoid participation in a scheme hatched by Bidwill to utilize burner phones to communicate with general manager Steve Keim — in violation of the terms of Keim’s suspension for extreme DUI — during a critical period of the Cardinals training camp in the summer of 2018.”

However, after “Bidwill cursed at, berated, and formally reprimanded McDonough, and ultimately demoted him,” as well as “subjected McDonough to bullying, mocking, harassing and abusive behavior,” the pair relented and went along with The Wire-like plan, per the allegations.

McDonough was the Cardinals’ vice president of player personnel from 2014 to 2019. If the name sounds familiar, that is because his father is legendary Boston Globe reporter Will McDonough and his brother is ESPN announcer Sean McDonough.

And while The Wire-style burner phone and NFL cheating accusation are the most gossipy nuggets in the filing, other accusations are much more serious.

Cardinals owner faces other severe accusations about his actions in the workplace

The Terry McDonough accusations come on the heels of Steve Wilks joining the Brian Flores lawsuit accusing NFL owners of racial bias.

McDonough’s complaint also includes charges related to this, saying, per ESPN, that “Bidwill had treated a Black employee and two pregnant women poorly and ‘created an environment of fear for minority employees.’ The filing did not include specifics on either alleged incident.”

It also alleges that Michael Bidwill killed an employee engagement survey in which Cardinals employees said “that they were fearful of Bidwill on a daily basis, as a result of Bidwill’s erratic and often abusive interactions with them.”

The grievance compares the hostile workplace environment inside the Cardinals organization to the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and former owner Robert Sarver, who recently sold the franchise after somewhat similar allegations emerged.

On the heels of McDonough’s filing, Pro Football Talk revealed a letter from another former Cardinals exec, Ron Minegar, that seemed to back up several of McDonough’s claims. It specifically confirms the charges related to Bidwill interfering with the negative employee survey.   

Bidwill vehemently denies these allegations, makes counter charges

In a statement released by Jim McCarthy, an external public relations adviser to the Cardinals, Michael Bidwill strenuously objects to these charges and disparages Terry McDonough.

“Claims he has made in an arbitration filing are wildly false, reckless, and an opportunistic ploy for financial gain,” the statement reads. “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.”

The statement also says that while with the Cardinals, McDonough had “difficulties in his personal life” and a “volatile demeanor toward colleagues.”

And it not only disputes McDonough’s charges but also makes serious and disturbing allegations about the former employee. The statement accuses McDonough of secretly taping fellow employees and claims the team has evidence of “alarming, first-hand allegations of extreme domestic abuse by Terry.”


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