Where does Matt Araiza go to get his reputation — let alone his NFL career — back?

The accusations that caused Matt Araiza to lose his NFL career shouldn’t stand in the way of his chance to earn it back

On Dec. 12, Matt Araiza was dropped from a lawsuit filed by a woman who alleged he raped her in 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus, File)
On Dec. 12, Matt Araiza was dropped from the lawsuit filed by a woman who alleged that he raped her in 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus, File)

Content warning: This story contains depictions of alleged sexual assault.

In 1987, eight construction executives were charged with allegedly defrauding $7.4 million from the New York City Transit Authority. The case proved weak. Jurors didn’t just acquit the men; many stood and cheered when the verdict was announced.

Afterward, Raymond Donovan, a former U.S. Labor Secretary and thus the most prominent of the defendants, said he was pleased but had a question.

“Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” he asked.

On Aug. 25, 2022, then Buffalo Bills punter Matt Araiza was named in a civil lawsuit alleging that he participated in the gruesome gang rape of a 17-year-old girl while attending a 2021 party near San Diego State University. Araiza punted for the Aztecs at the time.

Days later, amid a fury over the lawsuit, the Bills cut him.

Araiza immediately denied any wrongdoing, acknowledging only that he, 21 at the time, had consensual sex earlier at the off-campus party with what he believed to be an 18-year-old woman.

"The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press,” Araiza initially said. “I look forward to quickly setting the record straight.”

Well, it took 16 months — hardly “quickly” — but Araiza now faces neither any criminal investigation nor any civil accusation stemming from that night. The final piece came into place Tuesday, when the accuser withdrew the civil suit against Araiza.

Ariaza acknowledged no wrongdoing and made no monetary payment to the accuser. His only concession was agreeing to pull his own defamation suit against the woman, though he maintained the right to sue her attorney.

Previously, San Diego County police investigated the incident and declined to recommend that any charges be filed against anyone. The San Diego County prosecutor’s office then conducted a separate, independent investigation and came to the same conclusion.

Meanwhile, San Diego State University conducted its own “independent conduct” investigation and stated that there were “no findings against Matt Araiza.”

There is no mechanism for exoneration here. Initial accusations against Araiza were major national news, splashed all over television, websites and social media. The slow drip of the above findings and proceedings garnered less and less attention.

That left Araiza standing in his attorney’s office Wednesday sounding like Raymond Donovan once did.

Where does he go to to get his reputation — let alone his NFL career — back?

"The day you file a lawsuit, you don't have to prove anything,” Araiza said. “Sometimes you don't have to prove anything for years. So this idea society has that the second somebody files a lawsuit, it's completely true and we must take action based on what's alleged, I disagree with it.

“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,’” he continued. “I think that's what I would like to see moving forward.”

Professionally, Araiza’s goal is to return to the NFL. He was a unanimous All-American and NCAA record-setting punter at SDSU, dubbed the “Punt God” by fans. In Buffalo, he won the job — and a four-year, $3.8 million contract — almost immediately, in part by hitting an 82-yarder in the preseason.

That said, punters are expendable. He knows he needs to be better than ever.

"[I’m] confident that I'll be able to regain my NFL career,” Araiza said. “… I believe it's more of a when, not an if. And again, just trying to focus on football when I get there.”

The New York Jets brought Araiza in for a workout last offseason but did not sign him. Other than that, it has been quiet.

Some NFL personnel told Yahoo Sports last offseason that even after prosecutors publicly announced that no criminal charges would be filed, the existence of the civil suit gave them pause. Well, that’s now gone. Others were waiting for a jury verdict of not guilty as cover from any fan and media criticism.

While a not-guilty verdict would've been dramatic, not being charged at all is better than a jury acquittal. A criminal trial means that at the very least, police and prosecutors thought they could prove you did something beyond a reasonable doubt. With Araiza, no one did.

Additionally, Araiza can point to a recorded meeting in which San Diego prosecutors told the woman that while the civil suit accused Araiza of leading the woman into a bedroom where four men waited before throwing her face-down on the bed, evidence led them to conclude that Araiza left the premises before the woman ever went into the bedroom.

“He wasn’t even at the party anymore,” deputy district attorney Trisha Amador explained to the woman. Later, when going through a timeline of the night, Amador stated, “All I know is that at that point, suspect Araiza is gone from the party.”

Amador even cast doubt on whether a gang rape occurred at all, stating that due to video recording from the bedroom, “I absolutely cannot prove any forceable sexual assault based upon what happened.” A civil suit against four other men remains active.

Amador also told the woman that a witness stated that she was “telling people at the party you were 18,” and “another witness at the party, a different one, says that they specifically heard you say you were 18.” Further, the prosecutor told the woman that there were witnesses to the before and after of the earlier encounter with Araiza.

“The witnesses say … that shortly after you arrived at the party, you left and came back shortly thereafter,” Amador said. “And you told [a friend], ‘I just had sex.’ ... You didn’t appear unhappy. You appeared to be having fun and that the encounter on the side of the house with Matt, suspect Araiza, was consensual."

Maybe its impossible for Matt Araiza to get his full reputation back.

If nothing else, however, the accusations that caused him to once lose his NFL career shouldn’t stand in the way of his chance to earn it back.