Bills release punter Matt Araiza following alleged gang rape of minor
(Warning: This story contains details of alleged sexual assault.)
The Buffalo Bills have released Matt Araiza two days after the filing of a civil suit alleging the rookie punter and two former San Diego State teammates gang raped a minor in 2021.
The Bills announced the move Saturday evening, following mounting scrutiny about when the team was made aware of the allegations against Araiza and what diligence had been done regarding the litigation he was facing. Araiza traveled with the Bills to Carolina for the team’s final preseason game on Friday against the Panthers, but he was held out of action as the Bills deliberated his future.
On Saturday, Bills general manager Brandon Beane indicated that the suit was the driving force behind the team releasing Araiza despite new information still coming to light to the franchise.
“Ultimately, this is a legal situation,” Beane said. “We don’t know all the facts and that’s what makes it hard. But at this time, we just feel that it’s the best move for everyone to move on from Matt and let him take care of this situation and focus on that.”
Beane also said Buffalo reached out to “double-digit teams” and that none knew the specifics of Araiza being a suspect in the investigation.
Asked why the Bills chose to release Araiza now rather than when the team was initially contacted about the allegations, Beane said the lack of clarity in the events played a role in Buffalo ultimately moving on.
“With the serious nature of the allegations, we don’t have the means to put all the facts together,” Beane said. “There’s multiple versions of what happened and [Bills head coach Sean McDermott] is a football coach and I’m a GM. We don’t have access to everything and that’s more important than playing football.”
A sixth-round pick by Buffalo who earned the nickname “Punt God” during his college career with the Aztecs, Araiza was accused in a civil suit earlier this week of raping a woman, who was 17 at the time, during his junior season at San Diego State. Two former teammates during that season, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko, were also named in the litigation.
According to the suit, the woman — whose identity has been withheld in the filings — was allegedly assaulted in October of 2021, during an off-campus party at a house where Araiza was living. The filing stated that the woman had a sexual encounter with Araiza outside the home, and then was taken inside by him to a room where she was raped by the men. The lawsuit alleges the woman immediately reported the alleged rape to friends and then to police the next day. Araiza was never arrested or charged following that complaint, and the allegation wasn’t ultimately revealed publicly until the filing of the civil suit this week.
While the criminal investigation into the alleged incident began prior to Araiza being drafted by the Bills in April, the team previously said it had only recently became aware of the complaint. However, the franchise hasn’t specified precisely when it was alerted to the allegations.
Beane said the team first heard about allegations against Araiza in “late July” from a representative of the alleged victim in the civil suit. Beane said following that contact, the franchise “tried to be thorough and thoughtful and not rush to judgement.”
“I would say it’s not easy,” Beane said. “You’re trying to put facts around a legal situation, sometimes with limited information. Ultimately that’s where we’re at today with the decision.”
Beane added that due to the ongoing “legal situation,” the team would be limited in terms of what it could answer going forward.