(Warning: This column contains graphic details of alleged sexual assault.)
As of this writing, early afternoon Friday on the East Coast, rookie punter Matt Araiza is still a member of the Buffalo Bills.
Araiza is being investigated by San Diego police for being involved in an alleged gang rape of a 17-year-old high school senior last October, and the accuser has now filed a civil lawsuit naming Araiza and two of his former San Diego State teammates as defendants.
Reporters citing Bills sources, as well as the accuser's attorney, have said that the team has known about the allegations and lawsuit for weeks, well before Monday, when Buffalo cut veteran Matt Haack, signaling that Araiza would be the team’s punter this NFL season.
Araiza issued a statement Friday to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, saying, "The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press. I look forward to quickly setting the record straight.” While Araiza traveled with the Bills for Friday's preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers, he didn't play.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott said after the game he'd learned new information on the case in the past 24 hours — despite the Bills saying they had "conducted a thorough examination of this matter," and also two days McDermott himself said on the "Pardon My Take" podcast that Araiza was "a great kid."
McDermott even said his thoughts and prayers go out to the people involved — and "that includes Matt."
Araiza has quickly become a fan favorite in Buffalo because he can boom punts. He has been dubbed “Punt God.”
The cute nickname, the big leg, the fans instantly embracing a sixth-round draft pick, it would all be a tidy little story if not for the details that have been coming out for months, reported by the Los Angeles Times, that are horrific.
The young woman and some friends went to a party at an off-campus house where Araiza lived. She alleges she was handed a drink by Araiza; according to the lawsuit, there is suspicion the drink contained “not only alcohol, but other intoxicating substances.”
Separating her from her friends, Araiza allegedly led the young woman to a side yard, where he allegedly told her to perform oral sex on him, and then he stood her up, turned her around and allegedly had sex with her.
He then is accused of bringing her to a room inside the house, where several other people were waiting. Araiza allegedly threw her face down on the bed and the men in the room allegedly took turns raping her, as she went in and out of consciousness, for about 90 minutes. The alleged victim’s genitals were bloody and piercings in her nose, ear and belly button had been ripped out, according to the lawsuit.
She then did everything women are told to do if they’ve been raped. She went to the police to report the alleged assault the next day, where she says she had to wait five hours to speak to an officer. She underwent an examination and rape kit at an area children’s hospital. Her father told San Diego State officials three days after the incident allegedly occurred.
The Times reports that Araiza was connected to the attack within days of the party through San Diego State’s anonymous reporting system; multiple people reported the alleged rape, and at least one other student athlete who had heard about the assault questioned why school officials hadn’t investigated, and whether football coaches were “trying to sweep it under the rug” because the team was in the midst of a 12-2 season.
Documents from the lawsuit say that in a pretext phone call the alleged victim made to Araiza, he confirmed that he and the teenager had sex, and told her she should get tested for chlamydia. But Araiza’s tone changed when she asked him, “And did we have actual sex?” and he claimed he didn’t remember anything about the night, then hung up. Police detectives were reportedly recording the call.
In California, the age of consent is 18. The young woman was 17 at the time of the alleged attack and she allegedly says she told Araiza that night that she was still in high school.
As so often happens, the investigation has dragged on; no charges have been filed to this point.
But the Buffalo Bills are not a court of law. NFL teams can and do cut players for any and all reasons every week.
Even in a league where a quarterback accused of sexual misconduct by over two dozen women was recently handed the biggest contract in league history, a forcible rape accusation, with a criminal investigation long since underway and a civil case now in process, should be at the top of the list of reasons a player is axed. Especially in a time when Buffalo has witnessed the ridicule and criticism the Cleveland Browns have taken for signing Deshaun Watson — every bit of it deserved — as more accusers stepped forward.
We’d hope that now, against all discernible evidence, NFL clubs and commissioner Roger Goodell would be hyper-aware of the public sentiment regarding a team harboring an accused rapist and make it known it shouldn't happen.
We have written again and again that the NFL does not care about women. We will keep writing that the NFL does not care about women until the league and its member teams stop appearing to turn a blind eye to situations like these, and stop paying only lip service to the idea that it cares about the mental, emotional and physical well-being of female fans and women everywhere.
On Thursday night, the world learned that a member of the Buffalo Bills is named in a lawsuit and has been under investigation in connection with the accusation of a brutal rape of a 17-year-old girl.
The details of what the young woman alleges happened to her are horrific.
Including the detail that as of this writing, Matt Araiza still holds an NFL roster spot.