Cardinals ordered to pay former team executive $3 million for defamation, per report

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The Arizona Cardinals are being ordered to pay ex-team executive Terry McDonough $3 million for “false and defamatory” statements made about him publicly to the media, per a federal court decision filed on Monday, according to ESPN

Jeffrey Mishkin, the league arbitrator chosen by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, ruled that Arizona and its owner, Michael Bidwill, defamed McDonough “with malice” in a multi-page statement to media organizations, alleging McDonough committed spousal abuse and neglected his disabled, adult daughter. McDonough denied those claims. 

Mike Caspino, McDonough’s counsel, filed the decision with the U.S. District Court in Arizona on Monday as a step in the legal process for the court to confirm his awarded compensation. 

“Despite what we consider to be a fundamentally unfair arbitration process, Terry McDonough is the first person to ever win against an NFL owner,” Caspino said via a statement on the court filing, per ESPN. “Why the NFL has not held Michael Bidwill accountable remains a mystery.” 

The $3 million McDonough is set to receive is a good amount of money, but it is a far cry from what he sought to receive in court. He filed for $15 million in lost future earnings, $10 million for emotional distress, $10 million for reputational harm and between $60 to $90 million in punitive damages. 

Mishkin awarded him $150,000 in general damages for “the harm to his reputation” the defamatory statements caused, $600,000 in damages for emotional distress and $2.25 million in punitive damages. 

The league and the Cardinals have not yet made public remarks about the case. However, McDonough didn’t win on some of his other claims centered around unlawful retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. This arbitration claim was brought by McDonough against Arizona last April after he alleged that Bidwill retaliated against him after he said he wasn’t comfortable with the Cardinals’ use of burner phones to communicate with former general manager Steve Keim, who was suspended for “extreme” DUI at the time. 

McDonough, the team’s vice president of player personnel, was fired in January 2023 — less than a year after signing a two-year contract extension in May of 2022. His termination occurred three months before his arbitration complaint. The Cardinals statements were found to be “false and defamatory” as McDonough’s and his wife’s testimonies provided a clear picture that McDonough “never committed an act of domestic violence or domestic abuse” and that “McDonough has never abandoned responsibility for his daughter or cut her off financially.” 

The Cardinals procured information regarding allegations of spousal abuse against McDonough from his ex-father-in-law. He sent a letter to then-Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and the wideout handed over the letter to a team executive. The letter was then placed in McDonough’s employee file, where it sat until the team went to put out a statement about his dismissal in 2023. 

Mishkin deemed Arizona’s “own conduct in giving the letter no credence or consideration whatsoever at the time they received it is clear evidence of their own subjective doubts about the veracity and accuracy of the allegations.” The arbitrator also pointed to emails from McDonough and his wife about child support payments, and Bidwill said he offered him a 2019 contract that would have allowed him to live in North Carolina near his daughter. McDonough was amicable to that arrangement. 

It was found that the Cardinals used burner phones, but the league arbiter did not find in support of McDonough’s allegation that he was prevented from being an NFL general manager because of the conduct. His sole general manager interview came with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017.  

“In publicly attacking Mr. McDonough’s personal character by publishing false and defamatory statements entirely unrelated to matters at issue in the arbitration was unjustified in the circumstances and is deserving of punishment,” Mishkin wrote.  



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