The Buffalo Bills released punter Matt Araiza on Saturday night, two days after the rookie was named in a civil lawsuit alleging he was one of three college players involved in a gang-rape of a 17-year-old girl last October.
The Bills received considerable backlash over the past two days and coach Sean McDermott held Araiza out of Friday’s preseason game against the Carolina Panthers before the decision was reached Saturday to part ways with the former San Diego State star.
“This afternoon, we decided that releasing Matt Araiza was the best thing to do,” general manager Brandon Beane said during a press conference. “Our culture in Buffalo is more important than winning football games.”
The Bills released a statement Thursday professing they had done a “thorough examination” of the allegations against Araiza.
But as the uproar increased, Buffalo took another look at the situation, eventually coming to the conclusion that Araiza had to go.
“We tried to be thorough and thoughtful and not rush to judgment,” Beane said. “It’s not easy. You’re trying to put facts around a legal situation sometimes with limited information. … With it being a legal situation, there are certain things that we won’t be able to discuss.
“Ultimately, we thought it was best for everybody. It’s a very serious situation and with the serious nature of the allegations and we just don’t have the means to put all the facts together. There’s multiple versions of what happened.”
The lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court named Araiza and 2021 San Diego State teammates Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko.
Araiza is accused of having sex with the girl outside a house and then bringing her into a room where she was repeatedly assaulted and raped. The girl said the attack lasted for “about an hour and a half.”
The incident occurred in mid-October but San Diego State officials didn’t alert the campus community of the alleged rape and waited more than seven months to launch an investigation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
At the time of the rape, Araiza was in the midst of an unprecedented season and had earned the nickname “Punt God” for his pattern of long booming kicks. He joined legendary runner Marshall Faulk (1992, 1993) as the lone unanimous All-Americans in program history, won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter and finished the season with a NCAA-record 51.19-yard average.
Though Araiza had a reputation for having a strong leg, he was the third punter drafted when Buffalo tabbed him. Eyebrows were raised that day as to why Araiza fell in the draft.
Beane said Saturday that the Bills didn’t know about the alleged gang-rape situation.
“We did not know about this,” Beane said. “We’ve reached out to double-digit teams and no one had nothing on this. Nobody in the league knew about it. The names were sealed. Yes, if we had this, you know how important the character and the culture is important to me. Anything that would have come up like this, we would have taken him off our board.”
Still, Buffalo knew of the allegations earlier this week when the organization released holdover punter Matt Haack in favor of Araiza. In Friday’s preseason game, backup quarterback Matt Barkley handled the punting.
Coach Sean McDermott faced more than a dozen questions about Araiza in Friday’s postgame press conference and was clearly disturbed. On Saturday, he said Araiza seems to understand when told he would be released.
He also called the situation a difficult one.
“As Brandon said, we’ve tried to sort through a lot of information, it’s ongoing, and that to me has been one of the harder parts of this and that information continues to flow, it seems,” McDermott said.
–Field Level Media