Punter Matt Araiza signs with Chiefs two months after rape accuser drops civil lawsuit

Buffalo Bills punter Matt Araiza (19) prior to a preseason NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Buffalo Bills punter Matt Araiza prior to a preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 13, 2022. (Jeffrey T. Barnes / Associated Press)

Matt Araiza's agent wrote on social media Thursday that his client has been "to hell and back" just after announcing that the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs had signed the 23-year-old punter from San Diego State.

During training camp as a rookie with the Buffalo Bills in August 2022, Araiza was named in a civil lawsuit alleging that he participated in the gang rape of a 17-year-old girl while attending a 2021 party near San Diego State.

He acknowledged he had consensual sex with the girl and said he believed she was 18 because they met at a college party. The Bills swiftly cut Araiza and he was excoriated in the media.

Facts about his behavior on the night in question slowly came to light through investigations by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, the county prosecutor's office and San Diego State. All three probes ended with no charges being filed against Araiza.

Read more: Woman agrees to drop former SDSU punter Matt Araiza from lawsuit alleging rape

The civil litigation continued until December, when the woman dropped her suit in exchange for Araiza dropping a defamation suit against her. Araiza did not admit guilt and made no payment to her. It remained unclear, however, whether any NFL team would sign him.

“The win is bittersweet,” Araiza’s lawyer, Dick Semerdjian, said after the lawsuits were dropped. “Matt has been forced to defend himself for the last 16 months against false accusations and a campaign to ruin his career in the NFL. He will never get this time in his life back.”

As a San Diego State junior in 2021, Araiza received the Ray Guy Award after setting an NCAA record by averaging 51.2 yards a punt, earning the nickname "Punt God." He also had an NCAA-record 39 punts of 50-plus yards and 18 punts of 60-plus yards. His 86-yarder against San José State was the longest in the nation. The Bills took him in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL draft.

“My name, my reputation — this will be tied to me forever; that won’t go away,” he said at a news conference the day the lawsuits were dropped. “It was tough to watch the pain that it caused my family, because I have been proven innocent, but they for sure had absolutely nothing to do with this.

“And I think professional sports teams, as well as college teams, should have the backbone to say, ‘Look, we take these allegations seriously, but until something is proven, we can't cut our guy. We can't push somebody out who's worked their whole life to be here.'”

Read more: No charges filed in San Diego State gang rape case, district attorney's office says

Although Chiefs punter Tommy Townsend has averaged 47.4 yards a punt the last four seasons, coach Andy Reid and the two-time defending Super Bowl champions gave Araiza a second chance Thursday.

“We are grateful to [general manager] Brett Veach, coach Reid and the Chiefs organization for giving Matt this opportunity," JL Sports Agency posted on social media. "Matt has been to hell and back in the last 18 months. He has handled himself with grace and humility that is truly inspiring."

Araiza was accused of having sex with the minor outside the home and then bringing her inside to a room where she was repeatedly raped by four other men. However, the prosecutor's investigation determined that Araiza was no longer present at the party when the rape allegedly occurred.

His defamation lawsuit against the woman was “legally baseless,” but her first legal bill exceeded $20,000 and she “simply cannot afford to defend herself,” her attorney, Dan Gilleon, said in a statement reported by The Times. "Plus she has been beat down by Araiza’s PR campaign and is frankly over it."

Read more: Claims that five San Diego State football players raped a girl were followed by months of silence

The women's lawsuit against the four other defendants has not been dropped. Those defendants, all former San Diego State football players, have said any encounter they had with the woman was consensual.

The lawsuit was filed while San Diego State faced criticism after a Times investigation found that the university decided not to alert the campus community about the alleged gang rape and waited more than seven months to launch its own investigation.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.