THE ARIZONA CARDINALS were riding a three-game winning streak halfway through the 2019 season when owner Michael Bidwill called a mandatory all-staff meeting to address the drunken-driving arrest of his right-hand man, executive vice president and chief operating officer Ron Minegar.
It was the second such arrest of a top team official in a year, and Bidwill was irate.
During a Mothers Against Drunk Driving training, Bidwill unleashed a profanity-laced tirade at Minegar in front of everyone at the Tempe facility, along with workers who watched a video feed at State Farm Stadium, people who were there told ESPN. Bidwill emphasized his displeasure at having to deal with another DUI so soon after the 2018 DUI arrest of GM Steve Keim.
"The overall message was like, 'I can't believe I have to f---ing do this again. This embarrassed me. Don't drink and drive,'" one former employee said.
"It was so uncomfortable," another witness said. "It felt he was putting Ron up on a stake in front of everybody."
The 19-year Cardinals executive, red-faced and embarrassed, apologized to the team and asked forgiveness.
"I did something really stupid, and my face was beet red because I was an a--hole. I got in a car and drove intoxicated. That part of it was justifiable," Minegar told ESPN in October. "But it did go over the top."
Minegar had long since started to sour on Bidwill. Before his arrest, he had drafted a letter to Bidwill that he carried inside his jacket for months, hoping to never deliver it but knowing one day he would.
"Your negativity sucks the life out of the entire process and erodes our collective resolve to work our asses off for you and this franchise," Minegar wrote. "It's not just me -- everyone in this building is impacted by your constant negativity."
The Cardinals' workplace culture under Bidwill has come under scrutiny since April, when Terry McDonough, the team's former vice president of player personnel, filed an arbitration complaint that accused the team and owner of gross misconduct, including discrimination and harassment, among other allegations.
In his complaint, McDonough said Bidwill retaliated against him for objecting to the owner's alleged plan to improperly communicate with Keim during his suspension by using burner phones. McDonough's filing accused Bidwill of berating, reprimanding and ultimately demoting him after he and then-head coach Steve Wilks complained.
The Cardinals have strongly denied McDonough's allegations, calling them "outlandish." Regarding the burner-phone allegation, the team said that another executive "had interfered with the protocol of that suspension" and that Bidwill took "swift action" and directed that the phones be retrieved and "communications stopped."
The complaint also states McDonough was "aware of two separate instances in which Bidwill reduced to tears two pregnant employees as a result of his abusive and bullying mistreatment" and one instance in which Bidwill berated a Black employee "in a racially charged manner." The three people cited in those incidents all did not respond to ESPN's request for comment.
Minegar, along with two human resources executives, said they never saw or heard any racist words or acts by Bidwill. However, ESPN interviewed more than three dozen current and former Cardinals employees, including coaches, players and business staff, as well as third-party consultants and former allies, many of whom described a workplace they found abusive and intimidating in part due to a fear of the owner's unpredictable tirades.
"He's a yeller. He's just miserable to people," said Minegar, who left the team in January 2020, about five months after his DUI arrest. "There is a deep culture problem, and in my mind it emanates from one source."
While one woman told ESPN she felt protected by Bidwill when she raised concerns about sexual harassment by an outside client, others interviewed by ESPN -- nearly all on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation -- said Bidwill presided over discriminatory treatment of female business staff through workplace practices designed to keep them separate from men on the football side.
According to the interviews, women in the Cardinals' Tempe office have been told to use different stairwells than men to avoid interacting with players, and they were kept from using common areas shared with the football staff. At one point, the team installed cubicle extensions to discourage such contact, those interviewed said.
"It was always our fault," a female former employee said. "Like, it was our fault if we were talking to a man for whatever reason."
Bidwill told ESPN in a statement that the Cardinals have "worked hard over the last several years to improve our culture across the board."
"We have more to do and, as I have said to every member of the Cardinals organization, that includes my own work to grow and improve as a leader," Bidwill said in the statement.
"The truth is that we are a different organization today than we were just a few years ago and extremely different from the club I grew up around in terms of business practices, sense of community and overall structure. I'm confident that we have the right team in place and the commitment to continue on our path to building the best organization possible."
MICHAEL BIDWILL, 58, is the third generation in his family to own the Cardinals, the oldest continuously run professional football franchise. Founded in 1898 on Chicago's South Side as the Morgan Athletic Club, in 1920 the Cardinals were a charter member of the league that became the NFL. They moved to St. Louis in 1960 and Arizona in 1988.
Bidwill worked as a federal prosecutor in Arizona until joining the Cardinals as general counsel in 1996. He took control of team management decisions from his father, Bill, in 2007 after he successfully lobbied state and local governments to build State Farm Stadium. He became team owner after the elder Bidwill died in 2019.
One of the earliest accounts shared with ESPN of Michael Bidwill's temper flaring publicly occurred during a party to celebrate the completion of the stadium in 2006, according to a source with firsthand knowledge of the incident. The source said Bidwill tore into a political operative, Chuck Coughlin, who had helped secure more than $300 million in government support for the retractable-roof stadium. Coughlin had alienated Bidwill by also representing the interests of the Fiesta Bowl, who under state funding legislation could use the stadium, the source said.
According to the source, when Coughlin approached Bidwill to offer congratulations, Bidwill responded, "This is not your f---ing building. This is the Cardinals' building, not your building." Coughlin then said that the building belonged to the taxpayers, the source said.
Minegar, who was at the event, confirmed the account. Coughlin declined to comment for this story. A Cardinals spokesperson said Bidwill "never said anything remotely like that" and that the interaction had been mischaracterized.
Minegar said he often found himself mending fences with powerful outside parties that the team needed but whom Bidwill had driven away, including team lobbyists and a former state employee who helped create the stadium authority.
One former Bidwill ally said, "Sooner or later everyone gets thrown under the bus by Mike."
"People who thought they were friends with Mike, somewhere along the way, it sours," the person said. "It ends fairly abruptly."
Several people who have worked with the team as well as state and local governments told ESPN they do not believe Bidwill could get a taxpayer-funded stadium built today, partly because of the current state of Arizona politics but also because he has burned so many bridges.
"You're one of two people," the former ally said. "Either an enemy of Michael Bidwill or a future enemy of Michael Bidwill."
AT LEAST FOUR former Cardinals employees interviewed by ESPN said their mental health was negatively affected by working for the team and what they said were Bidwill's profane tirades over the years. Some said they had to seek treatment for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress after working for the team.
"When things happen and it's a male authority figure raising their voice at me, it just sends me into a blackout, to be quite honest," said one of the sources. "It's pervasive."
Several sources said that people feared passing the owner in the office and that Bidwill had the whole organization "walking on eggshells."
"Part of my job was to have a lot of people come to my office and commiserate," Minegar told ESPN. "A couple of times a week I would counsel employees on how to handle Bidwill."
One source said they warned co-workers not to misspell the owner's name or risk getting fired. "I would remember it this way: Michael Bid-Will fire you if you messed this up," the former employee said. "That was literally what I would tell everybody."
Amanda Flanagan, the team's former scoreboard production manager, asked her boss whether one of her direct reports could use sick time for jury duty. Under Arizona law, employers don't have to pay employees for such time missed.
Flanagan's inquiry landed on Bidwill's desk, resulting in an Aug. 5, 2019, meeting with the owner, Minegar and others, according to Minegar, two additional sources and an email account of the meeting written by Flanagan and obtained by ESPN.
"He yelled at her and screamed at her with several others in the room," Minegar confirmed. "I don't know how you justify the anger he had, but he thought someone was taking advantage of him."
Minegar intervened, according to the email and confirmed by him, telling Bidwill: "Hasn't she had enough? Just tell her the punishment."
Bidwill stormed out of the room after he suspended Flanagan for two days without pay for raising the jury duty issue, according to the accounts.
"I still don't understand why that meeting happened or what she had done," Minegar told ESPN. "But I could tell she was going to be punished and wanted him to stop yelling at her."
According to two sources, Bidwill then returned, threw a box of tissues at the table and said, "Here you go!"
"It was the most inappropriate treatment I had ever seen," Minegar added. "I deserved what he did to me. She didn't deserve that."
Flanagan, who declined to be interviewed by ESPN, wrote in her March 2021 email that she was "more demoralized and humiliated then ever imaginable in my career" and later saw a trauma counselor because of the incident.
In a statement provided by the Cardinals to ESPN on Monday, Flanagan said about her email: "In hindsight, I feel my reaction was out of proportion to the message that was delivered to me on that day, for reasons that had more to do with me personally than the team. I do not believe that anyone in that meeting intended to be hurtful."
Flanagan's statement said she had authorized the team to release her remarks "any time my time with the Cardinals or my resignation email is ever discussed in the news media."
Flanagan left the team in March 2021. The Cardinals declined to say whether her statement was part of any financial settlement with the team.
MCDONOUGH'S COMPLAINT ALLEGES that "Bidwill cursed at and berated a young African American employee in a racially charged manner. Such hostile conduct on the part of Bidwill created an environment of fear for minority employees."
According to three sources, that incident was over a parking spot at the team's Tempe facility. Wilks, the former head coach, said in an August deposition for McDonough's claim that the employee was Alfonza Knight, a scout since 2014. Knight, who still works for the Cardinals, did not respond to ESPN's request for comment.
Several former employees of color told ESPN they felt uncomfortable working for the team and cited a lack of diversity. The team said people of color make up 37% of the business side, up from 26% in 2020, with two Black executives, including chief people officer Shaun Mayo.
"I have a great relationship with Michael," Mayo said of Bidwill. "In my own lived experience with this organization, I can say I have never, not a day, felt anything, in any type of way, related to race."
Mayo emphasized the team's historic hires, including the NFL's first Black general manager and head coach pairing in Rod Graves and Dennis Green in 2004. Bidwill sits on the NFL's diversity, equity and inclusion committee and its social justice working group.
"With me being a person of color, I have had individual conversations with people of color to understand their experiences," Mayo, who has led the HR office since 2021, told ESPN. "Race has not come up as a topic of concern."
Minegar and former Cardinals human resources chief Lisa Lutich, who are both white, also told ESPN they saw no evidence of racism in Bidwill's behavior.
"I can tell you right now, that's the one thing I will say to anyone who asks me, I did not see any racism," Lutich, who said she left the role in frustration in 2008, told ESPN. "I did not see it there with Michael."
"I don't believe he has a racist bone in his body," Minegar told ESPN. "Rather, he's an equal opportunity offender."
Wilks, who is Black, is a co-plaintiff in a pending class action by former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores that alleges hiring discrimination by the NFL and its teams, including the Cardinals. The Cardinals went 3-13 during Wilks' single season with the team. Wilks alleges the Cardinals considered him a "bridge coach" and gave him no "meaningful chance to succeed" before his dismissal after the 2018 season.
The Cardinals have previously said in a statement, "The decisions we made after the 2018 season were very difficult ones. But as we said at the time, they were entirely driven by what was in the best interests of our organization and necessary for team improvement."
Attorneys agreed not to ask Wilks about issues of race during his deposition in the McDonough case because of the Flores class action, but Wilks said in his testimony that he had been the object of Bidwill's anger during his time with the Cardinals -- including an incident in which Bidwill swore at him on speakerphone while Wilks was in the car with his 9-year-old son. Wilks said his son later asked him, "Daddy, why is that guy talking to you like that?"
ONE MAJOR COMPLAINT cited by women who have worked inside the Cardinals organization is the team treated them differently than men and prevented them from accessing the same benefits and areas of the facility.
One of the issues involves the facility in Tempe, where a stairwell connects offices on the first floor to football spaces on the ground level, including the locker room, training room, weight room, meeting rooms, the main cafeteria and access to the practice fields.
Some women were told they were not allowed to use that stairwell, according to several former employees. One female former employee recalled a situation where she and her male boss needed to access a storage area in the basement. The woman said she had to go outside the building and take a service elevator down while her boss simply took the stairs. Afterward, she had to walk back the same way while he went straight up.
"It's crazy," another former employee said. "It just added extra layers of unnecessary barriers to do your job when you're already stressed."
A Cardinals spokesperson denied the team has ever had policies about where people can go in the facility. "Any instructions that may have been given by managers did not involve direction or input from senior leadership," the spokesperson said in a statement.
Mayo, the HR head, said the team has worked to dispel any belief that certain areas were off-limits to women. "During a couple of the listening sessions, we heard these unwritten rules and urban legends," he said.
Minegar said he believes managers told their people to avoid certain areas in the facility to save themselves headaches.
Multiple sources stated that men who worked on the business side -- but not women -- were allowed to use the weight room when players weren't there. One former employee remembered receiving an email sent only to men on the business side about weight room hours that started with: "Gentlemen."
Minegar said the problem could have been avoided if the team had offered different training areas: one for players and one for everyone else.
"For as long as I worked there, women weren't allowed in there but men were allowed to be in there," he said.
Some women on the business side were chastised by their managers for responding to coaches, scouts or players who spoke to them as they passed by the women's desks, former employees said. According to two sources, managers called subordinates on the phone to interrupt conversations that occurred. The team installed frosted glass extensions on top of cubicle walls that effectively ended communications, one former worker said.
"I was always told, like, 'You're not supposed to be talking to so-and-so. You shouldn't be talking to coaches. You shouldn't be talking to players,'" said one female former employee.
A Cardinals spokesperson said that some cubicle walls were extended but that gender played no role.
Two women told ESPN they did not believe they were allowed to pick up meals from the team's main cafeteria, with their male co-workers sometimes bringing meals to them instead. Multiple former employees said some women were even discouraged from using the restroom closest to their desks to avoid walking on the football side of the building.
The Athletic previously reported similar allegations in October.
While the working conditions described to ESPN are far different from the sex abuse and harassment alleged against the Washington Commanders under former owner Dan Snyder, former Cardinals employees said it nonetheless felt unfair.
"It just felt very sexist. It felt very misogynistic," one former employee said. "It felt very separatist."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell testified before a congressional committee last year at the height of the Commanders scandal that "we prioritize education and training for all League and club employees on important issues" including making sure "our employees are educated on how to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace."
"The NFL and its clubs are committed to workplaces that are professional, supportive and provide all employees opportunities to succeed," NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told ESPN in a statement. "Mr. Bidwill has listened to Cardinals' employees and advice from external experts. He has implemented changes that are resulting in a positive and inclusive environment."
McCarthy said the league has met with Bidwill and the Cardinals to review the workplace policies and changes.
MULTIPLE PEOPLE TOLD ESPN that Bidwill also subjected Keim to public humiliation after his extreme DUI arrest. That was on top of a $200,000 fine, which Minegar also received, and a team-imposed suspension.
As they would do with Minegar a year later, the Cardinals called an all-staff meeting at the Tempe facility, with stadium staff watching on a live feed. According to one employee who was in attendance, the owner questioned Keim until the general manager cried and apologized in front of everyone.
"He asked him about wearing an orange jumpsuit and all the dehumanizing parts about going to jail," another person said. "I perceived his intention to be, he really wanted to embarrass him to send a message."
"He just got up there and gave him a verbal ass-whipping in front of all of us," said a third person who was there.
Minegar said he and Keim, who did not respond to ESPN's requests for comment, were part of a drinking culture among some top Cardinals officials that started around 2013.
"In our work culture, generally speaking, alcohol is a big part of it," Minegar said. "You probably see more of it in the world of sports than other places. Not just at the Cardinals. We're not the outlier."
Minegar then added, "I'm the outlier because I made a really s---ty decision. I had a very public DUI in 2019, and that's something that I've had to live with because of my stupidity. I don't want to present myself as something that I am not."
IN 2019, THE Cardinals announced they were going to conduct a "cultural assessment" of the team. Minegar encouraged employees to be "100 percent honest," one team employee told ESPN.
"We worked our asses off to get that survey," Minegar said. "The last thing I wanted people to do is sugarcoat it."
The survey included questions about management and the team's workplace culture, including topics such as race and sexism and matters like a parental leave policy.
Minegar told ESPN the assessment revealed that employees were "working in fear" and that "the majority of the fear was emanating from one place, and Michael didn't want to see that."
In a statement, a Cardinals spokesperson said the team took "significant action" based on the feedback from the survey, including hiring Mayo.
Minegar said the survey highlighted what he already knew about Bidwill's management of the Cardinals. He continued to defuse potential blowups while trying to pinpoint what it was that bothered him so much. Eventually, he broke. He took out the letter he had started writing to Bidwill 10 months earlier.
"We were standing outside our offices, and he made a smartass comment," Minegar said. "I pulled [the letter] out and handed it to him. He looked at me and was like, 'What is this?' He walked into his office and read it."
Even though Bidwill had not followed through with his public threat to fire Minegar after his DUI arrest, and he hoped what he wrote would push Bidwill to make changes, Minegar knew it would likely become a resignation letter.
"He would then glare at me for about a month and a half, until finally he walks into my office at the end of the day one day and hands me this thing," Minegar said. "I open it up, and it's a separation agreement."
Minegar's two-decade Cardinals career ended in January 2020, alarming team staffers in Glendale and Tempe. One manager told his staff, according to a person who attended a meeting, "It's going to get bad."
"He was like, 'Ron Minegar protected us in a lot of ways that you'll never know,'" the source said.
BIDWILL BEGAN TAKING leadership classes in March as part of a mandate for all top-level employees, Mayo told ESPN. He said the organization also requires gender and racial discrimination training. "Everybody gets it," Mayo said.
The Cardinals hired outside consultants in April, after the McDonough complaint went public, to help the team craft a set of "core values" based on more than 150 one-on-one employee interviews, Mayo said.
The core values are still in development, according to Mayo, but the team has already made a number of changes, including a relaxed dress code and a more flexible work schedule, and creating a development pipeline for women and people of color.
But the ongoing McDonough arbitration has exposed a long list of aggrieved former employees and allies who say they've been burned by Bidwill.
When McDonough's complaint leaked to the media the first week of April, shedding light on the alleged use of burner phones and other claims, team PR adviser Jim McCarthy published a statement lashing out at McDonough, including serious allegations about his personal life.
"I'm like, 'That's typical Michael,'" said a source who considers himself a former Bidwill ally. "Take no prisoners. Take the nuclear option." McDonough has since accused Bidwill and the team of defamation and invasion of privacy in response to the statement.
After years of no communication, Minegar said Bidwill called him to discuss McDonough's complaint. Bidwill told Minegar that the complaint contained one page of Minegar's letter and asked whether he could use a second letter Minegar had written to Bidwill -- a "making amends" letter he had sent after he left the team and during his recovery from alcoholism -- as part of the team's response.
According to Minegar, Bidwill said he wanted to use the letter to show that the Cardinals are "not a horrible organization." Minegar told ESPN he never gave his old boss permission to use what he calls "a very private letter," telling Bidwill he was uncomfortable with the idea. But portions of his making amends letter later appeared in a second statement, also written by McCarthy, that was published April 10.
"I was not a happy camper. It went way over the line," Minegar said. "The comments made about Terry McDonough were also way over the top and reprehensible."
The team's dual PR responses persuaded Minegar to speak out, including providing ESPN with a copy of both letters.
What he now calls his resignation letter concludes on a personal note for Bidwill:
"I am sad for you and worried about you," the letter read. "You deserve to be happy, but you are miserable. You know it. The people around you feel it daily and it impacts them more than you understand."
ESPN researcher John Mastroberardino contributed to this report.