Sean McDermott is a very good head coach, and one of the better defensive minds of his era. He is also not in any way prepared to handle the kinds of questions he was inevitably going to get after the Bills’ 21-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Friday night. And a postgame press conference is not the ideal setting for what was about to happen.
McDermott knew that he was going to have to say more than what the team has said in the wake of a lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court against Bills rookie punter Matt Araiza, and two other current and former San Diego State football players. The lawsuit, which was first reported by Colleen Shalby and Robert J. Lopez of the Los Angeles Times, accuses the three men of rape, false imprisonment and gender-violence crimes. An unidentified woman claims that Araiza, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko took turns having non-consensual sex with her as she went in and out of consciousness. The woman was a 17-year-old high-school senior at the time.
McDermott began his postgame press conference with a statement before handing things off to the media in attendance.
“Okay. I know there was a game just played, but I want to talk about something that’s more important, which is what we have going on with one of the members of our team right now. With Matt Araiza. It’s an extremely serious… just hard to go through. It’s not a situation that I or we take lightly whatsoever. It’s very serious. I understand the sensitivity of the situation, and it’s clear that we have work to do continue to figure this thing out here. And we’re going to do that.”
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) August 27, 2022
McDermott deflected questions about what he thinks makes Araiza a “great kid” as he has said, and he did not get into the details of the allegations, nor when the Bills actually knew about them.
“I can tell you this: My heart, and my thoughts and prayers, go out to the people involved,” McDermott then said. “And that includes Matt. It includes both sides here. The victim, and everyone involved. Our prayers go out to them.”
When asked if he is satisfied with the team’s organizational response, McDermott simply said, “We have work to do.”
As far as why Araiza didn’t play, McDermott said, “It was my decision. And at the end of the day, I didn’t feel like it was right.”
McDermott was obviously uncomfortable and emotionally affected by the entire situation. He did not comment as to whether Araiza would make final cuts.
While McDermott certainly wasn’t ready to answer for something of this magnitude, it does display a horrible lack of perspective to “both sides” this situation in any capacity. If Araiza did what he’s been accused of doing, he deserves very few thoughts and prayers of any kind. If he’s been falsely accused, that’s an entirely different matter. But both-sidesing this will not minimize the damage. And by allowing Araiza to travel with the team, but not play, the Bills as an organization risk looking like they don’t take it nearly as seriously as they say they do.
We already know that the Bills organization never reached out to the alleged victim, and barely talked with her attorney. We already knew that the Bills knew about the allegations before they cut punter Matt Haack last Monday, making Araiza the default punter on the roster. And we know that with Araiza out for the Panthers game, backup quarterback Matt Barkley had to punt against the Panthers. That Barkley somehow managed to average 40.0 yards per punt on his four punts is a cute story — we wrote about it — but we need to get back to how ill-equipped the Bills have been to handle any of this.
The statement released by the team on Thursday, after the story came out, now looks far too inadequate to cover such a serious subject.
From the Bills: “We were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt from October 2021.
Due to the serious nature of the complaint, we conducted a thorough examination of this matter. As this is an ongoing civil case, we will have no other comment at this point.”
— Alaina Getzenberg (@agetzenberg) August 25, 2022
The “through investigation” part seems particularly galling in light of all we now know.
Which, given how long the Bills have known about it, is completely and utterly inexcusable. Beyond that, McDermott’s “both sides” comment, in which he appears to be giving equal weight to the feelings of an alleged rapist… it’s difficult to know what to do with something like that.
The NFL has never been adept at handling situations involving any kind of violence against women. The NFL almost never reaches out to the victims in cases like this, and the NFL generally gives equal or more prominent weight to the statements of the alleged attackers than those of the alleged victims. That’s been proven through the years, and it was never more so than in the recent series of disasters involving Deshaun Watson. But this particular embarrassment could have been avoided with more careful wording.
It’s sad to say that, whether he thought so or not, Sean McDermott said the quiet part out loud.