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Some reactions to Sean Kugler arbitration filing go beyond the boundaries of ethical journalism

Howard Balzer Avatar
December 16, 2022

The cesspool that can sometimes be the state of “journalism” these days became even nastier Friday after the revelation that the Phoenix employment law firm Shields Petitti filed a Request for Arbitration on behalf of former Cardinals offensive line coach and run game coordinator Sean Kugler. The request was actually filed Wednesday.

Kugler was sent home from Mexico City on Nov. 21 where the Cardinals were playing the 49ers and fired for what the law firm called “unsubstantiated allegations that he inappropriately touched a female security guard.”

Reports at the time used the word groping to describe what Kugler allegedly did.

The law firm claimed that “the Cardinals dismissed Kugler from the organization without conducting a thorough investigation or interviewing him.”

In the press release announcing the filing, attorney Michael Petitti said, “The allegations against Coach Kugler are simply untrue and have caused Sean, his wife and family enormous personal and professional damage. Coach and his family have been desperate to understand from the Cardinals front office and others what rationale or evidence was used to terminate him for cause.”

In his first public comments since he was fired, Kugler said in the release, “Respecting women is a core value for me, and something I have instilled in my children and the players that I coach. The mysterious allegations by the Cardinals are untrue, and I want to clear my name. Be it a miscommunication or mistaken identity, my family and I will cooperate fully and honestly with the NFL, Cardinals, or any other agency to get to the truth in this matter and restore my reputation.

“There are incredible people that work in the game – from league level to my players, fellow coaches, and incredible support staff. I simply want to get back to doing what I love, and would like my family to have peace.”

The Cardinals responded with a statement, saying, “As an ongoing legal matter, we are going to refrain from comment other than to say that the team is confident the process will result in a much different set of facts than those presented today and that it had good cause to terminate Mr. Kugler’s employment.”

Surely, Kugler has every right to file for arbitration, although that can be a difficult path because the NFL controls the process. Contracts of league employees mandate that claims go to arbitration behind closed doors rather than the court system.

Additionally, what has pushed this story off the rails are Kugler’s words about it potentially being “a miscommunication or mistaken identity.”

It didn’t take long Friday for at least two people (Brett McMurphy and Doug Samuels) from actionnetwork.com and footballscoops.com, respectively, to post stories suggesting that Cardinals on-leave general manager Steve Keim might have been the perpetrator and then put it on Twitter with photos of Keim and Kugler side by side because they are both bald and have goatees. Helping make the connection was that Keim’s leave for health-related reasons was revealed Wednesday, the same day as Kugler’s filing.

Making it worse was Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, who instead of tweeting only the team’s statement, published it as a quote tweet of the Samuels tweet that had Kugler wearing glasses and a cap. Rapoport has over 3.7 million followers on Twitter.

He told gophnx.com that he did it for “context” to provide both Kugler and the team’s side. That was indeed important, but including the tweet with the photos only amplified something that is blatant and uncomfortable speculation.

He then said, “No one will believe it,” to which I responded, “Really? In this environment where the discourse is so negative and some people will believe anything?”

He did understand my point at that juncture, but the damage had been done.

As I tweeted earlier today, “Don’t need a better example of the depths ‘journalism’ has sunk than the egregious tweeting of photos of Steve Keim and Sean Kugler side by side. If you have evidence, report it. Insinuations are irresponsible.”

Call me an old fuddy-duddy if you want when it comes to things like this, but there are ample reasons why there are those that don’t trust the media, especially when in some cases there is no accountability.

And this is a classic example. As one media member said to me at the Cardinals facility today, “If I did that, I’d be fired or at the least suspended.”

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com

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